We have talked before about the research into using an analysis of so-called “volatile organic compounds” in a patient’s breath to make a diagnosis of disease. I continue to monitor this interesting possibility and recently came across a group from England that has found a potential way of diagnosing TB from a breath analysis. Part of the excitement is that this test was able to diagnose TB infection in patients who did not have their TB in the lungs, as well as those that did. TB remains a diagnostic challenge even in the 21st Century.
Data from the World Health Organization indicates that there were 9 million cases of TB worldwide in 2013 with 1.5 million deaths, 80,000 of which were children. Having a simple and rapid test could improve diagnosis and save lives. The current test relies on something called an ion mobility spectrometer. The name, alone, conjures up an image of a very expensive and bulky piece of machinery. This is the same machinery and technology used by the military and security companies to detect explosives.
The reported test is said to have a sensitivity of 93% and a specificity of 94% for TB. If found to be reliable in further testing, this breath test would mean we could begin therapy much earlier since current culture techniques take time to grow and are not always reliable. Developing a smaller and lighter weight device to carry around is one current objective.