VOC Atlas

Breath Biopsy® VOC Atlas

Owlstone Medical has embarked on an exciting project to better understand the diversity of molecules in a given breath sample. The Breath Biopsy® VOC Atlas, a catalogue of identified and quantified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found on breath, provides insight and scientific context to these molecules with the goal of enabling confident selection of candidate biomarkers for disease. 

A catalogue of identified VOCs found on breath


We have developed the Breath Biopsy VOC Atlas, a catalogue of identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are commonly found on breath within a heterogenous healthy population. We have used Breath Biopsy OMNI® to provide a comprehensive picture of breath-borne VOCs. This cohort was specifically structured to include subjects of a variety of ages, but also represent a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. This diversity enables assessment of a broad range of compounds. Using background samples, we have carefully distinguished real biological signals from environmental contaminants.

The Breath Biopsy VOC Atlas has been created using this baseline range of known on-breath VOCs and provides ongoing support to the OMNI platform. Addition of the VOC Atlas into the OMNI Breath Biopsy VOC Library allows us to identify VOCs on breath with a higher degree of confidence, further enhancing our ability to understand the underpinning biology and validate non-invasive biomarkers.

 
Which VOCs are in the Atlas?

 
Our early efforts have begun to sketch out the shape of pathways represented in breath. This includes a major player in energetics, fatty acid beta-oxidation: fatty acids serve as an important energy source, oscillating in abundance according to circadian rhythms and energy demands. Fatty acid oxidation is a cyclical process, where a two-carbon unit (acetyl CoA) is broken off a larger acyl-CoA molecule – the process then iterates until the precursor is completely oxidized. This process is highly efficient and intermediates are generally completely metabolized through this process, however volatile ketones (e.g. 2-pentanone) may arise here. Acetyl CoA can be processed into several volatile molecules, such as acetic acid and propionic acid (products of hydrolysis of acetyl CoA and propionyl CoA, respectively), the ketone acetone and the aldehyde acetaldehyde, all of which are compounds in the VOC Atlas.

 
Shaping the future of Breath Biopsy

 
The Breath Biopsy VOC Atlas will form the basis of future biomarker discovery; analytical methods can be optimized based on the VOC Atlas, and quantitation for known VOCs will ensure minimal analytical variability. Analyzing VOCs in patients with known baseline ranges allows alterations in a patient’s metabolic activity to be more easily recognized, which facilitated identification of disease biomarkers. This quantitation of known breath VOCs will provide a valuable reference data set supporting investigations into the behaviour of VOCs in different populations and provide a greater understanding of biological pathways and study designs.


We look forward to sharing additional classes of molecules, and their clinical relevance, as we continue to better understand the diversity of molecules on breath. For more information on our VOC Atlas and the compounds included, please get in touch.