Metabolomics and GCxGC are Changing How We Monitor Our Health

On Friday, October 22, LECO hosted three GC-TOFMS experts for a spooky mass spectrometry symposium. Shari Forbes spoke about death and decomposition, Albert Lebedev gave a talk on mummies, and Jane Hill started the day with a look into diseases and a new method of diagnosing them.

In the era of COVID, we have all been introduced to how current diagnostic tests for lung infections work: a sample from our bodies are taken, using a nasal swab in most cases with COVID, that sample is treated to increase the amount of diagnostic markers, and then the sample is analyzed through clinical means. This is a fairly standard workflow for most lung infections; however, the main form of sampling in most diseases is through sputum, which is coughed up from the lower lung.

While this technology is good and sound, it originated around the mid-1800s and it is both invasive and slow. Furthermore, there are issues with obtaining samples for diagnosis from some subsets of patients, such as children or people who are HIV+. These patients cannot produce sputum at all, so there might not be a diagnosis available.

Predictive model for tuberculosis
Identification of specific volatile organic compounds may help indicate tuberculosis infection

Jane Hill is part of a group working toward an ideal future where a diagnosis for lung infection can be as simple and effective as a blood alcohol breath test. In her talk, she goes into detail on how her group has been focusing on tuberculosis, one of the biggest killers the world over, a disease that is far more contagious than COVID-19. By using breath samples and GCxGC technology on cultured, animal, and human samples, Jane and her colleagues have been able to identify a handful of VOCs that provide an excellent predictive model for the existence of a tuberculosis infection in a patient, even among children and those HIV+.

Learn more on how Jane’s work is moving us toward a handheld breath diagnosis tool.