Breath Biopsy® - VOC Biomarkers on Breath

A non-invasive way to measure chemicals in breath, for disease detection, exposure monitoring, and drug metabolism

What is Breath Biopsy®?

Breath Biopsy provides an entirely new way to measure the chemical makeup of breath. By determining the chemical compounds present, we can

  • look for biomarkers of disease.
  • measure exposure to hazardous substances.
  • monitor how drugs are being processed within the body.

Unlike liquid and tissue biopsies, which require blood or tissue samples to be taken, Breath Biopsy provides a completely pain-free method of testing.

Sources of VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are gaseous molecules that can be sampled quickly and non-invasively from breath. They are produced as the end product of metabolic processes within the body, meaning that underlying changes in metabolic activity associated with disease can produce particular patterns of VOCs characteristic of specific diseases. 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.

Breath Biopsy® Complete Guide - VOCs as Biomarkers for Disease

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How Do VOCs End Up in Breath?

Volatile organic compounds are produced throughout the body, and are picked up and distributed in the bloodstream. In your lungs, gases are exchanged between circulating blood and inhaled air. Alongside O2 and CO2, volatile metabolites also pass from the blood into the lungs extremely efficiently. These 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 pre-concentrated, collected and analyzed.

Whole Body Blood Sampling

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What is Involved in Breath Analysis?

Breath collection is carried out using our ReCIVA Breath Sampler, which ensures reliable, reproducible collection of VOCs. Subjects breathe a controlled supply of air, and samples of their exhaled breath are captured and stabilized on Breath Biopsy Cartridges, which can then be shipped for analysis with Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy analytical platform, using mass spectrometry or FAIMS to determine the VOC profile. Advanced data analytic techniques can then be applied in order to pinpoint the VOCs of interest.

Breath Biopsy Kits, from collection to discovery and validation of VOC biomarkers

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What are the key applications of Breath Biopsy?

VOCs originating from all parts of the body are captured in breath, making Breath Biopsy applicable to a wide range of diseases including cancer, inflammatory disease, infectious disease, metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease. The nature of Breath Biopsy, and VOC biomarkers, make them perfectly suited to addressing two of the major challenges of healthcare today: early detection and precision medicine.Breath Biopsy Applications

Early detection


For many diseases, the key determining factor in successful treatment and recovery is how early in its development the disease is identified. When identified at an early stage, before significant damage has been done to the body, treatment is much more likely to be effective. Changes in the concentrations of VOCs occur at the very earliest stages of disease, which means that detecting these VOC biomarkers can allow for disease diagnosis before other physical symptoms have become apparent. Moreover, pre-concentration of VOCs on Breath Biopsy cartridges allows even greater sensitivity, allowing even earlier detection. We are applying this insight to our research programs in early detection of lung cancer (LuCID), colon cancer (InTERCEPT) and bladder, kidney, esophageal, stomach, renal and prostate cancers (PAN).


Precision Medicine


Precision medicine is concerned with getting the right treatment to each patient individually. In many situations, it can be difficult to identify the correct treatment for patients, as a certain set of symptoms can be associated with many different underlying conditions. Even genetic testing cannot solve this problem, as although it can give information about predisposition to certain conditions, it cannot account for the environmental factors contributing to disease. Because Breath Biopsy directly accesses the underlying molecular mechanism, it can provide a way of stratifying patients, and applying the correct drug treatment rapidly. It also has the potential to be used in monitoring patients responses to drugs by way of their metabolism, an area which is known as pharmacobreathomics.

Owlstone Medical's Breath Biopsy platform is being combined with our latest technology, EVOC™ Probes, to enable targetted stimulation of biological pathways.

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

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