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A Revolutionary Approach to the Real-Time Analysis of Breath

Martin Perkins

5th September 2019

Biomarkers, Breath, Breathomics, GC/MS, IMS, Mass Spectrometers, MPS, MultiPurpose Sampler, Real-Time, Selected Ion Flow Mass Spectrometry, SIFT-MS, TD-GC-MS, TD3.5+, Thermal Desorption,


At last, a thermal desorption system is available that can be used with both GC/MS and SIFT-MS and has the large sample capacity, that enables the speed of SIFT-MS to be used to quick breath analysis of  large batches of samples.

Researchers looking at disease biomarkers in breath have used a variety of analytical instruments (GC/MS, SIFT-MS and IMS). However, until recently, research in this area has been limited by the access to commercially available instruments. Especially those that combine good analytical performance with reliability and practicality.

Whilst IMS, DMS, FAIMS instruments are compact and offer potential for direct sampling at the point of care, their performance is compromised by limited selectivity, sensitivity and dynamic range. They are however easy to deploy at the point-of-care (bedside/clinical).

On the other hand, real-time mass spectrometers, such as Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS) match all of the analytical performance requirements and have been widely used for breath analysis. However, they are more challenging to deploy at point of care.

As an inherently quantitative technique, SIFT-MS is ideally suited to large scale breathomics studies. This is due to long-term instrument stability and the ability to obtain equivalent results in multi-centre studies.

One of the big challenges in breathomics arises from the difference in sampling and sample introduction between GC/MS and real-time techniques. Differences between datasets analysed on the two platforms includes variations arising from different sampling and sample introduction approaches. This presents a problem for cross-validation studies. It also makes life difficult when moving from GC/MS based biomarker discovery to real-time analyser-based verification/validation studies.

Addressing these issues

With GC/MS studies, samples are collected upon thermal desorption (TD) tubes. Sampling at point of care is relatively simple and storage of breath samples collected on thermal desorption tubes is easy and convenient. Samples can be integrated in existing healthcare laboratory sample transport (blood/urine) schemes and analysed in centralised, accredited (GCP/ISO 15189) laboratories. Whilst there are limitations for some labile metabolites, sample stability has been studied and is well understood.

The disadvantage of the TD-GC/MS approach stems from its poor scalability when moving to full scale clinical trials. This is due to the time taken to analyse each individual sample.

The introduction of the GERSTEL MPS Robotic sampler and TD3.5+ tube sampler, finally delivers full support for breathomics and enhanced capabilities including:

  • Compatibility with both GC/MS and SIFT-MS
  • 1,000 sample tube capacity
  • Temperature controlled storage of TD Tubes
  • Automated Tube Spiking
  • 5-20 times throughput increases when using SIFT-MS over GC/MS

Anatune is proud to launch our new TD-SIFT-MS solution in the UK at next week’s IABR Breath Summit in Loughborough.

If you are attending, please drop by our stand and take a look at our new TD-SIFT-MS solution.

If you are unable to attend, and would like to know more, please contact me by email, or call the office on +44 (0)1223 279210.

Principle Scientist, Syft Technologies, Vaughan Langford explored this subject at the 2019 SIFT-MS Interest Group Meeting. Click below to have a look or CONTACT US to find out more.