Breath analysis tool to reduce antibiotic resistance

Written by Sarah Jones

To help tackle the problem of antibiotic overuse, which gives bacteria the chance to evolve into drug resistant strains, a pilot study is underway looking at the biomarkers exhaled by patients. The team of researchers from Zhejiang University (China) hope to develop a test that is efficient, painless and affordable, and that can assist doctors in only prescribing antibiotics when they are absolutely necessary.

Initial work is focussing on ventilator-associated pneumonia patients in the intensive care unit, where is it especially important to differentiate between common colonisation and life-threatening bacterial infection. The team hope that the new method could be used in such environments to help clinicians avoid unnecessary prescription of antibiotics.

“To confirm whether patients have a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract, doctors currently have to take a number of different samples (blood and sputum), and even chest x-rays in the case of pneumonia,” explained Kejing Ying (Zhejiang University), who is coordinating the work.

With the goal of developing future diagnostic tools, the group have begun with the use of benchtop analytical methods. Using these tools to analyze samples from 60 volunteers, they demonstrated a potential link between a diagnosis of bacterial pneumonia and the presence of exhaled Acinetobacter baumannii derived from VOCs in the patients’ breath.

“The challenge we face is that many VOCs are not unique to one pathogen,” added Ying. The team hopes that, ultimately, their research will lead to the early warning of bacterial infection in the lower respiratory tract through an approved non-invasive test.

Sources: Gao J, Zou Y, Wang Y et al. Breathe analysis for noninvasively differentiating Acinetobacter baumannii ventilator-associated pneumonia from its respiratory tract colonization of ventilated patients. J. Breath Res. 10 (2), 027102 (2016);