Standardization and identifying VOCs at the #BBCon23 panel discussion

Published on: 26 Nov 2023, under Breath Biopsy

The Panel Discussion is often one of the most popular sessions at our Breath Biopsy Conference. The theme of this year’s fascinating discussion was ‘Achieving better standardization in breath research.’

From questions on standardizing analytical hardware to discussing the importance of identifying VOCs in a healthy population, there were many interesting ideas to consider. Our panelists this year included:

  • Our Chair, Billy Boyle: CEO, Owlstone Medical
  • Dr. Brooke Kaiser: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Dr. Ethan McBride: Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Dr. Mangilal Agarwal: Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI)
  • Dr. Michael Wilde: University of Plymouth

All the recorded talks from #BBCon23 are now available to watch on-demand, including the panel discussion. The following excerpts are from our panel discussion this year as our experts explored standardization in breath analysis.

Catch up on #BBCon23

BBCon23 panelists graphic

Should we standardize breath sampling hardware, or should we develop a best practice for breath collection?

Standardization was a key theme of this year’s panel discussion. Out of our poll responders, 64% said that for the breath research field to make progress it is important to standardize the specific sampling hardware and analytical platforms. We discussed what aspects of breath research it was realistic to work towards standardizing.

Billy Boyle: ‘A broad range of approaches in breath analysis have been deployed both on the sampling side of things right through to the analytical techniques. The question is, should we standardize the analytical hardware platforms, or should we develop a best practice of breath collection to be used across the different hardware?’

Michael Wilde: ‘We should focus on best practices, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and how we approach data handling. It would be difficult to standardize hardware as most researchers use the hardware that is available to them or have experience in using it. Trying to force researchers to use a different hardware probably would not work. To the poll responses that said we should standardize hardware, maybe we need to focus on software that is universally used, such as GC-MS.’

Mangilal Agarwal: ‘Volatile organic compound (VOC) analysis is not new, we have been looking at these compounds in soil for a long time, so researchers already have the standard methods that they use. However, in breath we are using different equipment, hardware, and biopsy methods to find the VOCs we are looking for. Once we have a complete database of what is in healthy breath, we can identify what VOCs are relevant for what diseases, and based on that we can standardize the hardware to focus on a particular disease or VOC.’

Ethan McBride: ‘There is a long history of researchers modifying equipment to try and analyze things that haven’t been done before. Being able to reproduce someone else’s work is very important, so having standardization is important. Standardization is vital to be able to analyze breath in a new and exciting way’.

Brooke Kaiser: ‘Using different approaches and hardware is a benefit, as when researchers come together to compare findings it adds confidence to the results. A lot of different platforms can produce lots of promising data. What we do next with the data is a challenge in the standardization of reporting and data analysis, as everyone has different approaches for these areas. However, I still believe using different techniques will only gain confidence in the results gathered.’

‘The panel discussion was very lively and insightful.’

BBCon23 picture

How can we identify if VOCs are exogenous or endogenous?

Toward the end of the session, the panelists discussed how we can determine the origins of the VOCs we are finding on breath.

Billy Boyle: ‘We want to ensure we are focusing on compounds that have originated from breath and not from background contamination, but some compounds on breath can be exogenous and therefore could be represented in background samples. How can we identify if VOCs are exogenous or endogenous?’

Brooke Kaiser: ‘This is a challenge in the breath analysis community, but it is important to determine whether or not there are biological reasons from metabolic pathways that are causing the compounds to appear.’

Ethan McBride: ‘This is one of the most important questions we are posed. Some compounds can appear in breath samples that just do not make sense regarding metabolic pathways. Incorporating what has already been discovered in previous studies is a way to confirm and standardize what we now find in recent studies.’

Mangilal Agarwal: ‘Just because a VOC level is higher in a breath sample compared to background samples does not mean the compound is endogenous, it could be from food digestion. Food diaries are important to include when collecting breath samples. Identifying biochemical pathways is very important, and techniques such as headspace analysis of urine samples can help with this.’

Michael Wilde: ‘I don’t think that any VOCs that are found in breath are unique to just breath, which makes this field of research challenging. Although it is important to identify compounds that are relevant to certain diseases, it is important to also identify compounds that are not relevant, to validate your results.’

Other questions that were discussed by the panel include:

  • How do we agree on how to report standards and deal with background contamination?
  • How important is it that we identify relevant compounds, and what is the best practice for this?
  • How important is it to identify and quantify VOCs in a healthy population?
  • Do we have enough information to identify where most VOCs originate?
  • Where do you see breath research going in the future?

Watch the full panel discussion

‘The panel discussion was good and provided a helpful wrap-up of all the talks and discussions.’

More information on standardization and analysis of VOCs.

Our blog ‘Designing Studies to Standardize Breath Biomarker Discovery’ unpacks the concept of breath-or-blank studies. Breath Biopsy® is the complete solution for the high-quality collection and analysis of breath samples, providing a way to access the body’s biological information reliably and comfortably. Our webinar ‘Breath Biopsy® OMNI® for comprehensive and reliable detection of VOC biomarkers in breath’  provides more information on the application of breath analysis.

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You are invited to #BBCon24.

The next Breath Biopsy Conference is scheduled to take place on the 5th-6th of November 2024. We would love for you to join us. Keep an eye on our website and social media platforms to find out when registration opens!

BBcon23 On Demand

Catch-up on the presentations from BBCon23

Watch on-demand