Tuberculosis and other respiratory infections that now require days or even weeks to diagnose could be quickly and easily identified in minutes by a new “breath test” developed by University of Vermont researchers that measures the chemical fingerprints of specific bacteria.
The development of the test, reported in the Journal of Breath Research, could soon give doctors the ability to distinguish between different types of bacteria — or even various strains of the same bacteria — rapidly. That could speed effective treatment and cut costs.
“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 lead researcher Jane Hill.
"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." Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: 3 Secrets to Never Get Sick Again. Get Super Immunity for Only $4.95. Click here.
Hill explained that the test works by analyzing the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in exhaled breath. To test it, researchers infected mice with two bacterial agents common in acute and chronic lung infections, and sampled their breath after 24 hours.
Hill’s team found a statistically significant difference between the breath of the mice infected with the bacteria and those that were uninfected.
"We have strong evidence that we can distinguish between bacterial infections of the lung in mice very effectively using the [breath test] and I suspect that we will also be able to distinguish between bacterial, viral, and fungal infections of the lung,” Hill said.
"To that end, we are now collaborating with colleagues to sample patients in order to demonstrate the strengths, as well as limitations, of breath analysis more comprehensively."
Scientists have already investigated breath-based diagnostics for multiple cancers, asthma, and diabetes.