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Could "breathprints" one day be used to diagnose disease?

Your "breathprint," the chemical composition of each exhale, may hold potential as a new medical diagnostic tool, according to research recently published in PLOS ONE.

In the small study, Swiss researchers used a technique known as mass spectrometry to analyze the molecules in participants' breath samples. As reported in the New Scientist:

The team was interested in metabolites, compounds produced by the body's metabolism. The molecules are volatile and small enough to pass from the blood into airways via the alveoli in our lungs, so are present in our breath – albeit in miniscule amounts, sometimes less than one molecule per billion molecules of air.

The team found that metabolites in individuals' breath remained "constant and clear", says Swiss Federal Institute of Technology professor [Renato Zenobi, PhD].

...

Zenobi's team can identify compounds in breath immediately, so our breathprint could be used to detect signature metabolites associated with disease, giving an instant diagnosis. In a preliminary study, Zenobi has shown that breath samples can reveal whether people have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

While more research is needed to understand how breathprints might be used in a clinical setting, the research is noteworthy in light of the growing body of scientific showing a variety of unique biological identifiers, including microscopic ecosystems that exist in the human body, could offer insights into our personal health.

Photo by Sean Friend

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