Are you the kind of person who’s always popping breath mints or chewing gum? Most of us spend our time trying to avoid bad breath, but have you ever considered that your breath could be telling you something important about your health?
Breath may be a useful sample source for clinicians who hope to use it to identify chronic diseases. Gas chromatography/Mass spectrometry or GC/MS analysis was utilized by two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling to perform the first comprehensive breath studies in 1971. Pauling collected the gas from 10–15 exhalations in a cold tube, heated the tube, and then used GC/MS analysis to examine the released gases. GC/MS analysis revealed the presence of several hundred different substances in the exhalation samples.
Future Vision: GC/MS Analysis Breath Device
Now fast-forward to the present: GC/MS analysis of the breath is grabbing the attention of healthcare innovators once again. They envision a device that can spot an illness by testing your breath alone. It’s not available yet, but at present, breath chemistry is used to keep track of asthma and tuberculosis. Hydrocarbons in the breath can also warn of the impending rejection of a transplanted heart.
Lung Cancer Diagnostics
Last year GC/MS analysis was put to use by an international team of researchers from Israel and Colorado who conducted a study to develop a non-invasive method to diagnose lung cancer. Combining GC/MS analysis with solid-phase microextraction and a chemical nanoarray method, the research team discovered benign and pulmonary nodules from the exhaled volatile organic compounds of 72 patients.
GC/MS analysis yields a wealth of information for basic research. Non-invasive GC/MS analysis and chemical nanoarray methods can help reduce unnecessary investigation and invasive procedures, as well as procedure-related morbidity and costs, the authors concluded.
The two major components of GC/MS analysis are the gas chromatograph and the mass spectrometer. Utilizing a capillary column with critical dimensions and phase properties, the gas chromatograph allows the different molecules of a sample to separate as the sample travels through the column.
The mass spectrometer, downstream from the gas chromatograph, breaks each molecule into ionized fragments, which are then detected according to their mass-to-charge ratio. Since both components of the process are working together, accurate substance identification is possible.
GC/MS analysis is used by manufacturers to detect residual solvents trapped in a product either from the production line or cleaning process. GC/MS analysis detects trace levels of impurities in liquids, or atmospheric impurities in a sealed environment.