Can Breathprints Spot Obesity Problems Early?

Study results from breath-testing children promising

breath test

Imagine being diagnosed for a disease after simply blowing into a tube.

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Breath-testing may be the next big diagnostic tool — easy, painless, non-invasive. Exhaled breath can now be collected into a device and analyzed immediately.

Breathprints are like fingerprints, unique to each individual.

Breathprints ‘fill an urgent need’

A new Cleveland Clinic-based study of fatty liver disease in obese children is yet more evidence of the promise of breath-testing.

Naim Alkhouri, MD, Director of the Pediatric Preventive Cardiology and Metabolic Clinic at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, led the study.

“Breath-testing fills an urgent need for a non-invasive way to screen for childhood obesity-related complications,” says Dr. Alkhouri. “It can tell us whether a child is obese and gives us clues as the child’s likelihood of developing chronic conditions like fatty liver disease and diabetes.”

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Fatty liver disease is an ‘epidemic’

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a serious potential complication of childhood obesity, affecting around 10 percent of children and up to 50 percent of those who are obese. In some cases it can lead to scarring and damage to the liver.

“Fatty liver disease is an epidemic in the United States,” says Dr. Alkhouri. “It affects one in 10 children. With the rate of childhood obesity we expect that to go up.”

Diagnosis of fatty liver disease is currently done through blood tests, imaging procedures, or in more serious cases, liver biopsies.

What the breath-test found

In the study, 60 obese children with and without fatty liver disease had simply blown air into a mass spectrometer through a tube.

Dr. Alkhouri and researchers analyzed the volatile organic compounds exhaled by the children. They found that levels of five specific compounds were higher in the children with fatty liver disease than those without. Through those compounds, the team was able to accurately identify those children with fatty liver disease.

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“The take-home message is that obese children with fatty liver disease have a different breathprint,” says Dr. Alkhouri.

Future of breathprints as a tool bright

Though he says more studies are needed to validate the team’s findings, Dr. Alkhouri says the preliminary data is “very encouraging” for the future of breathprints as a research tool.

“It’s early, but we think it’s going to spur research in new, less-invasive ways to screen for risks of obesity-related complications,” he says.

More information

Time magazine: Smell Test: Using Breath to Sniff Out Cancer, Infections and More

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