Breathing air reveals illnesses

The device should help doctors with the diagnosis

Currently only to be deciphered by researchers: the result of the breath analysis © ISAS
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In the near future, when someone asks you to blow into a tube, it may not wear a police uniform but a white coat. And instead of looking for signs of excessive alcohol consumption, her family doctor is searching for evidence of illness in her breath. Because Dortmund scientists have now introduced a new method to analyze the exhaled air of patients. They now want to develop a device that could help doctors diagnose cystic fibrosis or bacterial pneumonia.

Breath analysis as a medical diagnostic aid already exists. Scientists at the Institute for Analytical Sciences (ISAS) have developed and successfully tested them together with physicians from a Westphalian lung clinic. It works much like a nose, except that a special spectrometer takes over the task of the olfactory organ. It searches for the so-called markers in the exhaled air of a patient. These are chemical substances that are characteristic of certain diseases.

Explore possibilities and limits

However, the search for new markers is not in the foreground in the current project. With the funding of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research breath analysis devices are to be developed, which are suitable for use in medical practices or clinics. Because what is currently in the laboratory of the ISAS in Dortmund, meets neither medical needs nor legal requirements for medical devices.

"We scientists only want to find out whether and under what conditions a new method works, " explains Jörg Ingo Baumbach, responsible scientist at ISAS. "This means that we are constantly changing the parameters again and again, thus exploring the possibilities and limits of the method."

Scientists of the ISAS with the respiratory analysis apparatus © ISAS

However, a family doctor does not need to be able to set temperatures or analyze the breath of mice - he wants to find out if his patient may be suffering from cystic fibrosis or bacterial pneumonia. In addition, the physician in the intensive care unit would like to know through repeated measurements whether the condition of the patient changes. In order to meet the different medical requirements, ISAS will work together with industrial companies as well as with clinics and other Leibniz institutes. display

Apparatus should become more practical

In the case of breath analysis, this means that the current equipment must be made more practical and the number of switches and controls reduced to a user-friendly level. The graphs and graphs that currently appear on a separate screen as an analysis result must become a measurement that even non-researchers can understand. For this, and also for the automation of processes, the right software is needed.

And last but not least, the finished device must not only meet the medical safety regulations, but also be producible at a reasonable cost. Otherwise, the call for an in-ear punch will be left to the colleagues of the police alone.

(idw - ISAS - Institute for Analytical Sciences, 05.12.2007 - DLO)