Successfully identifying the chemical fingerprints of specific bacteria in the breath could lead to a breathalyser capable of detecting lung diseases such as tuberculosis.
A team from the University of Vermont was able to successfully identify strains of bacteria in the lungs of mice by analysing volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath.
"Traditional methods employed to diagnose bacterial infections of the lung require the collection of a sample that is then used to grow bacteria. The isolated colony of bacteria is then biochemically tested to classify it and to see how resistant it is to antibiotics," said co-author on the study Jane Hill, a microbiologist at the University of Vermont. "This whole process can take days for some of the common bacteria and even weeks for the causative agent for tuberculosis. Breath analysis would reduce the time-to-diagnosis to just minutes."
Analysing breath to detect diseases is not limited to lung infections. Recent studies have shown it may be possible to detect diseases such as colorectal cancer and multiple sclerosis by looking at what we exhale.
Moving the research on from mice to humans, Hill said, "We are now collaborating with colleagues to sample patients in order to demonstrate the strengths, as well as limitations, of breath analysis more comprehensively."