A wide range of both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and non-volatile metabolites are generated by almost all biological systems, and are now thought to represent end products associated with organism physiology and metabolism. This applies to many different types of systems ranging from humans, bacteria, trees, and plants.
In humans, several thousand metabolic chemical compounds have been detected in exhaled human breath and appear to relate to health and disease status. Because of this, human breath analysis provides a wide range of opportunities for diagnosis of pathophysiological conditions in a non-invasive and potentially inexpensive way. We hypothesize that specific breath metabolites are associated with specific human diseases. By monitoring for emitted chemicals in exhaled breath, we can develop tools for early stage asymptomatic diagnostics that can lead to early therapy and treatment.
Groups across the world are working to develop multiple approaches to create miniature analytical sensor modules capable of integration into a single portable device for human diagnostic systems. Final system integration of devices is expected to yield analyzers that are specifically tailored for each application, have small footprints, and be adapted for field and clinic use.
Major areas of interest include: (1) identification of robust chemical biomarkers associated with diseases of interest; (2) miniaturization to produce small, portable, and easy-to-use micro-total-analysis (uTAS) chemical analysis systems; and (3) advanced chemometric algorithms and digital signal processing methods. Together, all of these research thrusts areas are expected to produce the first generation of mobile breath analysis devices in upcoming years. Ultimately these devices will be fully utilized in medical point-of-care locations in clinical offices.
Cristina Davis did her PhD at Univ of Virginia and postdoc at Johns Hopkins. After staff positions at EPFL and the Draper lab, she joined UC Davis in 2004, where she currently chairs the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering program and directs the Nano and Micro Manufacturing Center.