Breath Biopsy – How Exhaled Breath Can Be Used For Early Detection of Disease and Cancer

Breath Biopsy-Early Detection Of Disease And Cancer
Discover the Breath Biopsy. A cutting-edge, non-invasive technique in precision medicine for identifying cancer and disease biomarkers in exhaled breath samples.

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Exhaled Breath Biomarkers in VOCs for Early Detection of Cancer

Biomarker studies using exhaled breath are rapidly emerging as a novel approach for early disease detection and precision medicine. In my last blog article on Breath Biopsy, I introduced the concept of using exhaled breath samples to identify changes linked with health and disease. As an alternative to painful biopsy procedures, this novel breath analysis workflow offers a non-invasive experience for patients. Breath biopsy has the potential to improve patient wellbeing while simplifying clinical workflows. Using this approach provides an entirely new way to access metabolic information, by collecting and analyzing breath samples for early disease detection, detecting and monitoring response to treatments, or measuring exposure to hazardous substances and their impact on the body.

Billy Boyle, the Co-Founder and CEO of Owlstone Medical, told this interview how he is planning to use Breath Biopsy and the Orbitrap GC-MS to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in health care costs.

Source: Thermo Fisher Scientific

Liquid biopsy vs. Breath Biopsy

While blood, urine, and stool tests have become commonplace ways to identify illnesses, the development of breath tests has lagged, and the primary reason is there was no reliable way to collect a breath sample and to analyze it. With Breath Biopsy, Owlstone Medical is leaping those hurdles with its standardized breath collection and its VOC analysis technologies.

Unlike liquid and tissue biopsy, which require blood or tissue samples to be taken, exhaled breath sampling is completely non-invasive. Breath analysis, however, requires a highly sensitive analytical technique capable of accurately measuring the broad range of exhaled volatile organic compounds. Today, we will learn how low- and high-abundance biomarkers can be quantified from exhaled breath using high‑resolution accurate mass (HRAM) mass spectrometry (MS) as the Orbitrap GC-MS.

Quantitative Biomarker Discovery with GC-MS

Historically, the robust and reproducible analysis of VOCs in breath has posed many technical and analytical challenges, which have led to limited agreement between different studies. Today, there are different tools available that can be used for quantitative analysis of exhaled breath. Out of the available techniques, the most effective analytical method is the Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) coupled to a thermal desorption (TD) unit. This provides highly specific information on the qualitative and quantitative presence of VOCs in exhaled breath, making it the gold standard for the untargeted analysis required in biomarker discovery. Excellent long-term stability makes GC-MS capable of reproducibly measuring potential VOC biomarkers at the low concentrations present in exhaled breath. Within the clinical environment, there is a need to collect both quantitative and qualitative information from a single run. Likewise, it is necessary to discover both extremely high and extremely low concentrations of compounds in a sample. The Orbitrap GC-MS in this particular case takes advantage of its high-resolution capabilities, the wide dynamic range and mass accuracy that provides fast and confident identification.

Breath Biopsy - Biomarkers for diseases in breath
Image source: Owlstone Medical

Identification of Novel Biomarkers by Owlstone Medical

At this relatively early stage in the development of the Breath Biopsy field, the ability to identify and investigate the role of specific biomarkers is a key advantage in developing effective breath tests for clinical applications. A full-scan high-resolution data provided by an Orbitrap GC-MS offers the capability and flexibility to leverage sampled data at a later stage for re-evaluation. This provides scientists and researchers a simplified way for a retrospective deep dive into results, but also to increase the amount of relevant sample data, to target specific compounds, and perform required quantification potential biomarkers. And that is essential to build up an understanding of what is normal, abnormal, or critical when variations in the sample are monitored.

A key benefit of the quantitative approach is that, once biomarkers have been identified and thoroughly validated, a wider range of options are available for their subsequent development. Well-characterized biomarkers can be investigated within differing patient populations, irrespective of whether the same technology is used for analysis. It is this level of versatility that makes quantitative discovery methods extremely advantageous when creating a clinical test which could be approved by regulatory bodies. Breath Biopsy is now in use at over 100 clinical sites worldwide investigating various diseases that are listed in the image below.

Breath Biopsy represents a non-invasive, adaptable and accessible means to detect and measure biomarkers – which are closely linked to disease activity. The clinical applications for breath biomarkers are wide-ranging, with numerous applications in both precision medicine and early detection.

Transforming Disease Detection and Precision Medicine with Breath Biopsy

Breath Biopsy is a revolutionary technology that has the potential to fundamentally alter our approach to disease detection and precision medicine. This noninvasive method of analyzing exhaled breath for biomarkers has the potential to revolutionize patient comfort and improve clinical workflows. Utilizing Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (GC-MS) coupled with a thermal desorption (TD) setup provides highly specific information on the qualitative and quantitative presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath, making it a useful tool for biomarker discovery. As Breath Biopsy continues to be adopted globally, one can anticipate that it will play a significant role in the early detection of numerous diseases. This innovative tool brings us closer to achieving our objective of improving patient health while potentially saving countless lives and reducing healthcare costs.

Original blog

Thermo Fisher Scientific – AnalyteGuru >>>

Additional resources

Webinar: Enhancing Breath Biopsy Through TD-GC-Orbitrap Mass Spectrometry

TEDx Talk: Could a Simple Breath Test Diagnose Disease?

Presentation: A new approach to Breath Biopsy using TD-GC-Orbitrap, Kayleigh Arthur

Webpage: New Breath Analysis Workflow – A non-invasive approach for disease detection


Breath Biopsy® – Biomarkers on Exhaled Breath, Owlstone Medical

Detecting the Presence of Cancer in Patients’ Breath, Technology Networks (2020)

Developing new ways to diagnose cancer, BioTechniques: The International journal for life science me…

How a breath biopsy test could change the face of early cancer detection, The Pharmaceutical Journal…

Frequently asked questions

What is Breath Biopsy, and How Does It Aid in Early Detection of Cancer?

Breath biopsy is a cutting-edge, non-invasive method that analyzes volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in the exhaled breath of patients. These VOCs serve as biomarkers that can indicate the presence of cancer. Owlstone Medical’s breath biopsy device is at the forefront of this research, aiming to provide early cancer detection through breath analysis.

The process involves collecting and analyzing breath samples using specialized equipment. The presence of specific VOCs in exhaled breath can be indicative of cancer, making breath biopsy a promising tool for early detection.

Breath VOCs in exhaled breath have already been identified as potential biomarkers for various cancers. The breath biopsy platform by Owlstone Medical represents an adaptable solution for cancer screening, with the potential to revolutionize the way we approach early diagnosis of cancer.

How Does Exhaled Breath Biopsy Differ from Traditional Cancer Detection Methods?

Unlike traditional methods that may require invasive procedures, exhaled breath biopsy offers a completely non-invasive approach by analyzing volatile organic compounds in the breath of patients.

Breath biopsy provides insights into the presence of cancer using sensor array signals derived from the VOCs in breath samples.

The analysis of volatile organic compounds in exhaled breath, especially using Owlstone Medical’s breath biopsy device, has shown promising results in differentiating between cancer patients and non-cancer individuals.

How Does Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy Device Work?

Owlstone Medical’s breath biopsy device is designed to collect exhaled breath with known biomarker VOCs, providing a non-invasive method for cancer detection.

The device facilitates the collection and analysis of breath samples, focusing on VOCs as biomarkers for disease.

With the standardized breath collection device, Owlstone Medical aims to set a new standard in breath research, especially in the detection of lung diseases and various cancers.

Why are VOCs in Breath Important for Cancer Research?

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in breath are crucial as they serve as potential biomarkers for various diseases, including cancer.

The presence of specific VOCs in breath may indicate the presence of cancer, making them invaluable for early detection and research.

Global cancer statistics highlight the need for early and accurate cancer diagnosis. The analysis of volatile metabolites in breath, especially VOCs, provides a promising avenue for cancer research, with the potential to reshape global cancer detection strategies.

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