Non-invasive breath test for pulmonary tuberculosis

26 February 2010

A new point-of-care test can detect active pulmonary tuberculosis by analysing volatile compounds in the breath, according to an international study to be published in the journal Tuberculosis.

The breath test may offer a new way to detect tuberculosis, a major cause of death, especially in developing countries. Doctors often have difficulty diagnosing the disease because current tests such as a chest X-ray or sputum culture are expensive and often generate false-positive or false-negative results.

The United States Air Force recently awarded US company Menssana Research a contract to evaluate a new point-of-care breath test for pulmonary tuberculosis, studying patients in Africa, Great Britain and the Philippines. If successful, a patient could learn within minutes whether they are infected with tuberculosis.

The National Institutes of Health previously funded a multicenter international study to validate the breath test for pulmonary TB in San Diego, London, and two sites in the Philippines and Mexico.

"The breath test was 85% accurate in detecting patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis," said Dr Michael Phillips, developer of the breath test and CEO of US company Menssana Research. "The breath test appears to detect volatile organic compounds manufactured by the infecting organism, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, that causes the disease. The breath test detects a signal from Mycobacteria in the lungs, which is why it's probably a better test than skin tests or a blood test for tuberculosis that measure the body's immune response to infection."

Another advantage is that the breath test is safe, painless, and non-invasive, as a patient breathes gently for two minutes for a sample collection.

Dr Phillips hopes that physicians and patients will eventually consider a breath test in the same way as we now think of a chest x-ray or a blood test: as an inexpensive and convenient screening test which can detect several diseases in their earliest and most treatable stages.

Menssana Research says it is currently developing breath tests for several other diseases, including lung cancer, breast cancer, and ischemic heart disease. The US FDA previously approved the company's Heartsbreath test for heart transplant rejection.


To top