Breath Biopsy® - VOC Biomarkers on Breath

A non-invasive way to access a patient’s metabolome, for early detection and real time monitoring of disease activity

Whole body metabolic sampling with Breath Biopsy®

Disease has an immediate effect on an organism’s metabolism. This alters the pattern of volatile metabolites exhaled in a patient's breath, making Breath Biopsy® a key tool for earlier disease diagnosis

The complex system of chemical transformations that take place within the cells of a living organism and sustain life are referred to as the metabolism. The myriad of small, intermediate molecules that take part in an organisms metabolism are called metabolites. The type and quantity of circulating metabolites are central to the function of all living systems: this biochemical composition is also known as the metabolome. Changes in the metabolome can signal the onset of disease before it is detectable by other medical means, making metabolites important 'disease biomarkers' for early diagnosis. Metabolites also give information that is valuable for the differentiation of related disease states and the monitoring of drug toxicity and interactions.

genome to metabolome

Breath Biopsy® Complete Guide - VOCs as Biomarkers for Disease


Accessing the metabolome via breath

In your lungs, gases are exchanged between circulating blood and inhaled fresh air. Alongside O2 and CO2, volatile metabolites also pass from the blood into the lungs extremely efficiently. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are exhaled and provide a source of useful biomarkers directly linked to the body's metabolism.

Breath Biopsy® non-invasively collects and measures VOC biomarkers from a patient's breath. As blood circulates throughout the body before returning to the lungs, the VOC biomarkers in breath provide a holistic snapshot of a person's metabolome. It takes roughly 1 minute for blood to flow around the entire circulatory system. By sampling breath for a minute or longer, even very low levels of systemic VOC biomarkers can be preconcentrated, collected and analyzed.

Breath Biopsy® for pulmonary diseases

Breath is also particularly valuable for diagnosing diseases that reside in the lungs or airways. For example, VOC biomarkers originating from pulmonary tissue are relevant for diseases like lung cancer and metabolites relating to infectious bacterial diseases like tuberculosis. Breath analysis is also sensitive to potentially important endogenous VOCs, such as drug metabolites.

As part of the STRATA (Stratification of Asthma Treatment by Breath Analysis) project, Owlstone Medical’s disease breathalyzer technology is being used to stratify asthma patients by inflammatory subtype, matching patients to the correct treatment to both improve patient outcomes and save healthcare organizations money.


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Shifting the focus of precision medicine to metabolomics

Tailoring healthcare to specific patient disease characteristics is the key component of the precision medicine model.

Biomarker based detection tools provide vital information about a patient’s disease phenotype and are increasingly becoming an important route to the optimisation of disease diagnosis, stratification, therapy selection and the monitoring of drug treatment regimes. Many precision medicine diagnostic approaches have focused on genetic testing to identify the best treatment pathway. For example, liquid biopsies like blood tests that allow tumor phenotype to be established from pieces of circulating tumor DNA are becoming established practice.VOC-img-02This use of genomics in precision medicine, however, is limited as it provides a static picture that does not capture the biological variability of disease. Metabolomic techniques focus on downstream molecular information, using metabolites as markers of disease activity to diagnose and stratify an individual’s treatment. After treatment selection, drug metabolites can also be measured to provides information about pharmacokinetics, to determine efficacy of the chosen treatment and monitor potential toxicity effects.

How is biomarker detection becoming an important tool in precision medicine-based drug treatment regimes?

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The advantages of breath biopsy

Owlstone Medical’s breath biopsy uses non-invasive collection and rapid analysis of the volatile fraction of metabolites in a patient’s breath. The presence and concentration of these volatile organic compounds (VOCs) directly reflects the underlying biochemical activity and state of cells and tissues. These VOCs include biomarkers that can be used to precisely characterise disease processes and define the right course of treatment for a patient.

Due to the diffusion of metabolic volatiles from circulating blood into inhaled air in the lungs, VOCs in exhaled breath originate from the whole human system as well as from metabolic activity in local airways tissue. This combination makes breath biopsies sensitive to both pulmonary conditions like asthma and lung cancer, as well as diseases elsewhere in the body. 

  • Non-invasive

    High patient comfort reported

  • Effective biomarker detection

    Sensitive both pulmonary and systemic disease biomarkers

  • high sensitivity

    Extreme sensitivity from pre-concentration of breath VOCs onto sorbent tubes using ReCIVA

  • broad activity source range

    Can measure exogenous VOCs such as drug metabolites, the microbiome or the environment

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