Showing posts with label VOCs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VOCs. Show all posts

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Breathprint of COVID-19

Bad breath in those infected with COVID-19 might be the least of their problems. But studying it helps in understanding the mechanisms of this deadly respiratory disease and developing diagnostic tests. 

Dozens of confirmed cases of halitosis owing to active infection by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) have been reported in the literature (Patel & Woolley, 2020; Riad et al, 2020)

Possible explanations were decreased salivatory flow due to angiotensin‐converting enzyme 2 receptor-mediated alterations in the tongue, a greater risk of bad breath for mouth breathers who are also more prone to halitosis and increased attention to odor when wearing face masks. Another likely explanation is bacterial co‐infections arising from the novel coronavirus.

DNA analyses of microbial communities in the respiratory tract of those infected with SARS‐CoV‐2 frequently detect abnormally high bacterial reads of Prevotella, Streptococci, Treponema, Veillonella and Fusobacteria, known to emit malodorous volatile sulfur compounds and volatile fatty acids (VFAs). In addition to odor, VFAs could impair T- and B-cell proliferation responses and cytokine production.

What molecules could we expect to find in a person infected with the novel coronavirus? Lamote and colleagues review dozens of (often overlapping) molecules detected in other infections. Among those are aliphatic alcohols, branched hydrocarbons, alkane derivatives, terpenes, dimethyl sulfide and other sulfur and nitrogen-containing compounds. Three aldehydes (octanal, nonanal, and heptanal) drew special attention as candidate biomarkers in pediatric SARS-Cov-2 infection (Berna et al., 2020). These three biomarkers demonstrated 100% sensitivity and 66.6% specificity. Analysis of breath in two groups of adults with median ages 40 and 60 identified aldehydes (ethanal, octanal), ketones (acetone, butanone), and methanol that discriminated COVID-19 from other conditions. Aldehyde Heptanal had significant predictive power for severity of the disease.

It has been shown that properly trained dogs  are able to detect an olfactory signature of SARS-CoV-2 infection with a specificity greater than 90%. Several clinical trials have been initiated to study biomarkers of COVID-19 in breath by e-nose and other technologies. Two studies have been already completed and one paper reported successful detection using Aeronose (Wintjens et al, 2020) with 86% sensitivity and negative predictive value of 92%. Gas Chromatography-Ion Mobility Spectrometry allowed differentiation of patients with definite diagnosis of Covid-19 from non-Covid-19 with about 80% accuracy and 82.4%/75% to 90%/80% sensitivity/specificity. 


Patel J, Woolley J. Necrotizing periodontal disease: Oral manifestation of COVID‐19. Oral diseases. 2020 Jun 7.

Riad A, Kassem I, Hockova B, Badrah M, Klugar M. Halitosis in COVID-19 patients. Special care in dentistry: official publication of the American Association of Hospital Dentists, the Academy of Dentistry for the Handicapped, and the American Society for Geriatric Dentistry. 2020 Nov.29

Lamote K, Janssens E, Schillebeeckx E, Lapperre TS, De Winter BY, Van Meerbeeck JP. The scent of COVID-19: viral (semi-) volatiles as fast diagnostic biomarkers?. Journal of breath research. 2020 Jun 29.

Berna AZ, Akaho EH, Harris RM, Congdon M, Korn E, Neher S, Farrej MM, Burns J, John AO. Breath biomarkers of pediatric SARS-CoV-2 infection: a pilot study. medRxiv. 2020 Dec. 7

Ruszkiewicz DM, Sanders D, O'Brien R, Hempel F, Reed MJ, Riepe AC, Bailie K, Brodrick E, Darnley K, Ellerkmann R, Mueller O. Diagnosis of COVID-19 by analysis of breath with gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry-a feasibility study. EClinicalMedicine. 2020 Oct 24:100609.

Wintjens AG, Hintzen KF, Engelen SM, Lubbers T, Savelkoul PH, Wesseling G, van der Palen JA, Bouvy ND. Applying the electronic nose for pre-operative SARS-CoV-2 screening. Surgical endoscopy. 2020 Dec 2:1-8.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Inhale and feel it with your heart

All you need is love. Or failing that chocolate.
And not only because dark chocolate could lower the risk of heart disease, blood pressure and sugar levels. As Dr. Schieberle's team recently discovered that heart could sense and enjoy the sweet smell of chocolate too. When they put small odor-emitting molecules from chocolate on one side of a dish, cells actually moved towards the aroma.

The heart, the lungs, the blood, the sperm and testis all have the abilities to recognize chemicals responsible for smells. Genomic studies (Deldmesser et al, 2006) showed that many tissues have working genes responsible for the perception of flavors. Sperm of sea urchines is able to recognize the odor and swim toward the egg. Human sperm might very well be capable of "smelling" their way to the egg too. And white blood cells sense the odors of bacteria to rush to the site of infection in the wound. Unfortunately, cancer cells can also sense their way out of the tumor in the direction of blood vessels, leading to metastasis. Smells can guide social preferences, trigger positive or negative memories, help to lose weight, reduce anxiety or give you nightmares. Smells can make or brake, kill or heal. They can have therapeutic or diagnostic use helping to understand gene-environment health paradigms and paving new avenues for future health care strategies.


Feldmesser E, Olender T, Khen M, Yanai I, Ophir R, & Lancet D (2006). Widespread ectopic expression of olfactory receptor genes. BMC genomics, 7 PMID: 16716209

Schieberle P, & Molyneux RJ (2012). Quantitation of sensory-active and bioactive constituents of food: A Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry perspective. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 60 (10), 2404-8 PMID: 22369090

Schieberle P., Do cells in the blood, heart and lungs smell the food we eat? 245th  Chemistry of Energy and Food, National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, New Orleans, LA, April 7-11, 2013

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Colonoscopy for everyone! ..or Gonna Buy Me A Dog

New research from Japan brings good news: dogs can be almost as accurate as a colonoscopy exam.
In patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) and controls, the sensitivity of canine scent detection of breath samples compared with conventional diagnosis by colonoscopy was 0.91 and the specificity was 0.99.
The sensitivity of canine scent detection of watery stool samples was 0.97 and the specificity was 0.99.
The accuracy of canine scent detection was high even for early cancer. Canine scent detection was not confounded by current smoking, benign colorectal disease or inflammatory disease.  
As simple as that: exhaling 100-200 ml into a breath sampling bag and storing it in a Ziploc bag at 4°C until a trained dog has a change to sniff it can be enough for diagnostics. Just one breath sample! And it was almost as good as a watery stool sample obtained during colonoscopy or this joyous examination itself.

There have been many research studies that dogs, rats and even moth can detect scents pertaining to human disease. Ordinary household dogs can be trained to distinguish breath odors (McCulloch et al 2006). For some cancers, sensitivity can be as high as 100% (Horvath et al 2008).

Unfortunately, sophisticated mass-spectrometry, gas chromatography and software tools interpreting the signals are still not as good as our four-legged friends that are never getting lost in the noise of disease-unrelated flavors.
But we are getting better in identifying specific chemicals responsible for various conditions - from alkanes  - such as pentane in breath of IBD patients and polystyrene foam or aromatic components of petroleum in cancer breath to blends of fatty acids like oleic and linoleic acids forming the smell of death.

Perhaps pet rats will find their use as pocket doctors before men-made sensors are developed to cope with infections, medical conditions, even fear and anxiety that also have a distinctive odor signature. In any case, Dr. Sonoda and his colleagues bring us a reassuring word that not every frequent visitor to the GI doctor's office will have to experience the joys of a colonoscopy.

Sonoda H, Kohnoe S, Yamazato T, Satoh Y, Morizono G, Shikata K, Morita M, Watanabe A, Morita M, Kakeji Y, Inoue F, & Maehara Y (2011). Colorectal cancer screening with odour material by canine scent detection. Gut PMID: 21282130

Other published literature on olfactory signatures in gastrointestinal disease:

Cheu HW, Brown DR, Rowe MI (1989) Breath hydrogen excretion as a screening test for the early diagnosis of necrotizing enterocolitis. Am J Dis Child 1989;143:156–9.

Pelli MA, Trovarelli G,, Capodicasa E, Breath alkanes determination in ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Dis Colon Rectum 1999;42:71–6.

Pelton NS, Tivey DR, Howarth GS, A novel breath test for the non-invasive assessment of small intestinal mucosal injury following methotrexate administration in the rat. Scand J Gastroenterol 2004;9:1015–16.

Tibble JA, Sigthorsson G, Foster R, Use of surrogate markers of inflammation and Rome criteria to distinguish organic from nonorganic intestinal disease. Gastroenterology 2002;123:450–60.