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Exhaled Breath for Non-Invasive Exposure Research

A Powerful New Way to Discover Exposure Related Biomarkers


The Impact of Exposures on Long-term Health

The WHO ranks environmental exposures among the top risk factors for chronic disease mortality and a major risk factor of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer.

Exposure research has been historically limited to compounds which had profound and striking effects on individuals, with the less obvious impacts of small regular exposures not as widely explored. With the more recent recognition of the impact of everyday exposures on health and disease development, research in this area is now growing at an impressive rate.

Figure 1. The Global Impact of Exposure to Hazardous Environments

In order to identify the connections between environmental exposure and disease, researchers in the field of exposure science are increasingly taking a holistic approach that requires the characterization of the totality of individuals’ exposures over the course of a lifetime.

This approach has become known as exposomics. Since these studies involve monitoring people over a lifetime they can be very long-running and are slow to produce results. Typically, this approach also involves the analysis of repeated samples to look for changes in exogenous compounds from exposures, and endogenous compounds linked to the effects of exposure on the body over time.

Why Breath?

Breath: A Non-Invasive Alternative to Sampling for Exposure Science

Exposure icon tileExhaled breath is a non-invasive alternative to blood sampling, providing a window into the body’s internal chemical environment. Breath contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which pass from the blood and from airways tissue. These could originate directly from external exposures or be downstream biomarkers of effect, related to internal process such as oxidative stress, lipid peroxidation, metabolism and inflammation.

Breath Biopsy® Products and Services provides a powerful way to non-invasively collect longitudinal measurements of exposure-related VOCs and non-volatiles in breath, and discover exposure biomarkers.

Discovering biomarkers that act as early indicators of hazardous exposures or pre-clinical signs of elevated disease risk could make it possible to move beyond diagnosis and treatment of exposure-related diseases into actual prediction and prevention of adverse outcomes.

Breath Biopsy: The Complete Guide, your introduction to breath biomarkers

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Breath Biopsy for Exposure Research

Breath Biopsy provides a complete solution for collection and analysis of exposure biomarkers on breath. Collect samples with the ReCIVA® Breath Sampler and then choose to send them to our specialist laboratory for analysis or perform your own in-house investigations. By opting for the Breath Biopsy Laboratory, you gain access to our advanced HRAM TD-GC-MS platform, rigorous quality control pathways and the expert support of our team of analytical chemists and data analysts.

Our analysis can be used to detect a wide range of VOCs in breath, including VOCs commonly related to hazardous exposures such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (BTEX) at sub parts per billion concentrations. Our protocols provide repeatability and reproducibility across the full breath sampling process from breath collection, to transport and sample analysis. Our advanced analytical capabilities also enable us to discriminate between closely related compounds across a wide range of concentrations.

If you’re involved in exposure research then contact us to discuss how Breath Biopsy could support your work.

Explore the Applications of Breath Biopsy for Early Detection, Precision Medicine and Exposure

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Case Study

Targeted Analysis of BTEX

Quantification of BTEX in breath samples
Figure 2. Quantification of BTEX in breath samples.
BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes) are known hazardous VOCs and are commonly compounds of interest in exposure studies. Typically, sources of exposure to BTEX include smoking, vehicle emissions, solid fuel fires, and occupational exposure. Due to the widespread exposure and resulting serious health effects, they are obvious targets for biomonitoring. Owlstone Medical ran a targeted analysis for BTEX compounds on exhaled breath samples collected from 136 people.

Benzene in Breath
Figure 3. Output from Targeted Analysis of Benzene.

The Breath Biopsy Platform was able to quantify BTEX in breath down to PPT concentrations (Figure 2). In this case, we were able to distinguish between smokers and non-smokers based on the concentration of benzene and other markers in breath. You can find out more about this  work from our research poster.

Research Poster - Determining smoking status using VOCs from exhaled breath

Exposomics poster 2019

Current Projects

Current Projects in Exposure Research

Exposome Project for Health and Occupational Research (EPHOR)

EPHOR logoOwlstone Medical are part of EPHOR, an EU-funded consortium that aims to further investigate the complex relationships between environment and disease by developing the concept of the ‘working-life exposome’. This involves considering all occupational and related non-occupational exposures (e.g. lifestyle) throughout the lifespan of an individual, with the aim of identifying a panel of biomarkers related to lung damage for future research.

Exposome Project for Health and Occupational Research (EPHOR) Early Detection of Malignant Mesothelioma

IAHFIAW logoWe’re working with the IAHFIAW, a building trades union in the United States and Canada, to examine the chemicals found on the breath of individuals with documented historical exposure to asbestos. This work aims to identify and verify breath-based biomarkers for the early detection of malignant mesothelioma, a rare, aggressive and treatment-resistant cancer, caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos and asbestiform fibers.

Our Mission

Save Lives by Non-invasively Monitoring at Risk Individuals

Our mission is to save 100,000 lives and $1.5B in healthcare costs and long-term we expect our work in exposomics to contribute directly towards these goals.

Breath Biopsy has the potential to be a vital tool in the development of exposure research, ultimately helping to save lives from exposure-related disease and prevent the additional healthcare spending that’s required when these diseases are diagnosed late.

By discovering exposure related biomarkers we can then find ways to non-invasively monitor at risk individuals. This approach could make it possible to identify individuals that require attention before exposure-related disease even begins to take hold – potentially completely avoiding the need for more costly and invasive forms of intervention. This is exactly what our current work with the IAHFIAW, to identify breath biomarkers associated with malignant mesothelioma, aims to achieve.

We welcome the chance to discuss other opportunities to apply Breath Biopsy for exposomics.



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