Calculating Biological Processes Improves Accuracy of Breath Tests

A diagnostic tool growing in popularity would benefit from modeling of the underlying biology


Newswise — Scottsdale, Ariz. (September 12, 2019)—Breath-based tests are gaining in popularity as a non-invasive diagnostic tool for a growing number of medical conditions. Research into improving the collection and analysis of these tests will be presented today at the American Physiological Society (APS) Interface of Mathematical Models and Experimental Biology: Role of the Microvasculature Conference in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In addition to exhaling carbon dioxide, people also exhale trace amounts of various volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pass from the blood into the lungs as we breathe. Because these VOCs result from metabolic processes, clinicians can gain insight into the processes by analyzing the amount and kind of VOCs in the breath. Such diagnostics can sometimes take the place of much more invasive procedures, such as endoscopy.

Anastasios Angelopoulos, PhD, and his team have observed that the rate at which these VOCs accumulate in the breath varies based on the time that samples are collected. Without accounting for such variation, test results might not be reliable. The team has developed a mathematical model of this time variability by accounting for various physiological mechanisms VOCs encounter. To reach the breath, VOCs pass from the blood into and then out of different tissue types (e.g., vessel walls, lung tissue). Changing properties of these media affect how difficult it is for different VOCs to enter and then leave them. These properties include how likely a particular media is to retain a VOC (its solubility and diffusivity in that media) as well as the relative size of the media.

By taking these factors into account, Angelopoulos says, “discrepancies in previous studies of the correlations between biomarkers and associated diseases … could be resolved.” In addition, through the inclusion of these factors, information from breath tests “turns out to be potentially rich in information pertaining to microvascular and lung health that could otherwise be overlooked.”

Anastasios Angelopoulos, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati, will present the poster “The role of microvascular permeability on the dynamics of biomarker exhalation” on Thursday, September 12, at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: The American Physiological Society (APS) Interface of Mathematical Models and Experimental Biology: Role of the Microvasculature Conference will be held September 11–14 in Scottsdale, Ariz. To schedule an interview with the conference organizers or presenters, contact the APS Communications Office or 301.634.7314. Find more research highlights in the APS News Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,000 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.


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