COVID-19 Information

Making the “Breath Biopsy” a Reality

The Analytical Scientist

April 9, 2020

The Analytical Scientist spoke with Jane Hill, associate professor of engineering at Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, "to find out how [her] research in the arena of breath analysis is opening new diagnostic doors." ...

"...Breath samples contain specific molecules (biomarkers) that can paint a picture of a patient’s health. A given biomarker may demonstrate detectable changes, such as an increase or decrease, when a specific disease is present, and this relationship is established through statistically robust testing across large patient populations. Conducting diagnosis in this non-invasive and immediate way has a transformative potential for respiratory medicine in particular, and for improving patient quality of life," said Hill.

"...There are a lot of infectious diseases out there – with COVID-19 being a particularly topical one... We hope to explore the opportunity to combine a number of technologies to drive COVID-19 identification, such as our breath analysis system and a nucleic acid amplification method. Viruses are traditionally harder to diagnose, and patients present with non-specific signs and symptoms due to generalized inflammation. We have had success in this area, though – we were recently able to differentiate influenza A from B using breath analysis in animal subjects. Next? Establishing the potential efficacy of this approach in humans, hopefully allowing subsequent application in triaging for coronavirus carriers.

"The future of such tests will rely on clinical translation, both for diagnostic use and for tracking treatment response. Reducing these tests to handheld devices represents a major focus. The ability to rule out tuberculosis infection using a handheld device in the field would have a dramatic effect on our healthcare approach, and on our ability to contain infections. This also holds true for vulnerable groups, such as lung transplant patients and children with cystic fibrosis, for whom early diagnosis represents a top priority. There are certainly challenges to address in reducing the systems to such small devices, but we hope that these questions will be answered in time."

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