In the not-so-distant future, diagnosing a specific lung infection at your doctor’s office may be as quick and easy as blowing into a Breathalyzer, according to a study published in the Journal of Breath Research.
Researchers at the University of Vermont have developed a test that can detect the presence of common infectious bacteria in breath based on the bacteria’s “breathprint,” a signature volatile organic compound (VOC) — particles emitted in gasses — unique to different strains of bacteria and their host.
The study was conducted on lab mice infected with different strains of bacteria that can cause pneumonia, and another that causes respiratory infection. After 24 hours, researchers tested the animals’ breath by ionizing breath samples then shooting them through a mass spectrometer to analyze concentrations of VOCs in a process called secondary electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (SESI-MS).
The test not only detected the different bacterial infections, but also identified between the two different strains of pneumonia-causing bacterium. The test also differentiated between healthy and infected mice.
According to Jane Hill of the University of Vermont and study co-author, “We have strong evidence that we can distinguish between bacteria infections of the lung in mice very effectively using the breathprint SESI-MS approach.” She added, “I suspect that we will also be able to distinguish between bacterial, viral and fungal infections of the lung.”
Before the test can be readily available in clinics, large-scale human trials will be conducted.