Institute of Bio-Sensing Technology

Volatile Analyses from Humans: The Future Diagnostic

Professor Norman Ratcliffe University of the West of England

Volatile analyses for disease diagnoses in humans is an emerging area of scientific endeavour, and there is now a new journal (The Journal of Breath Research) devoted to this research field in recognition of this fact. Volatile analyses offer the potential of low cost, point-of-care, rapid, non-invasive diagnoses. A review of some of the recent literature will be presented, including new areas with potential. In addition, recent results in cancer detection and gastro-intestinal disease diagnoses will be discussed.

Biography: Professor Norman Ratcliffe

Research Group: Professor Norman Ratcliffe is based in the Centre for Research in Analytical, Material and Sensor Sciences at the University of the West of England, Bristol.  The group's activities are targeted at the analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from biological sources to diagnose diseases. The team have investigated vapour profiles from vegetables, including carrots, potatoes, grain and citrus fruit, and compared diseased and healthy specimens using preconcentration methods followed by gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC–MS).

The identification of key volatile markers has enabled the identification of sensors targeted at these volatiles and led to the introduction of low-cost electronic nose technology to detect, for example, soft rot detection in potato tubers in potato stores. This research was undertaken with the aid of funds from the British Potato Council (BPC). The department of environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA)-funded research has recently focused on brown rot and ring rot detection, which are serious pathogens. The team has also collaborated with the Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association (CCFRA) to analyse VOCs from fungal infected grain and successfully built an electronic system for wheat assessment, with funding from the Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA).

With Wellcome Trust support the group are using adsorption thermal desorption (ATD–GC–MS) to identify volatile biomarkers from diarrhoea and a key goal of this project is to build  prototype device(s) for rapid diagnoses of the pathogens Clostridium difficile and campylobacter; the former is responsible for a significant number of deaths in hospitals. Other projects involve the analysis of stool VOCs for bowel cancer detection, urine VOCs for prostate cancer detection and breath for liver disease diagnoses.