Experts gathered to explore a potentially revolutionary method of diagnosing heart and lung disease from a patients breath sample

On 1 November, the EMBER (East Midlands Breathomics Pathology Node) Industry Symposium took place, to discuss how the latest technologies could take us a step closer to accurately diagnosing conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) without the need for invasive procedures.

A team of clinicians and research staff from Leicester’s Hospitals are currently collecting breath samples from patients’ that are admitted to hospital with acute shortness of breath. These breath samples are being chemically analysed by scientists in the laboratories at our University and Loughborough University. The breath sample is run through a machine to produce a ‘map’ of chemicals in the breath. This map can be used to spot markers that provide information about the health of the patient, and in turn help doctors select the best course of treatment.

Speaking at the symposium, Professor Salman Siddiqui, Professor of Airway Disease and Respiratory Medicine at the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre and University of Leicester, said: “When a patient comes into hospital they don’t say ‘I have heart failure’, they describe their symptoms and clinicians try to find the cause of those symptoms to make a diagnosis. However, our current diagnostic tools are not always sensitive and specific enough to pick up certain conditions in their early stages, such as diseases deep in the lungs.

“This breath analysis could be a quick way to accurately identify the cause without the patient requiring an invasive procedure or multiple scans. This means we could give the patient the best chance of recovery, reduce exposure to drugs with potentially harmful side effects, and reduce readmission rates.”

The study has been funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to help develop non-invasive tests for diagnosing disease in breathless patients.