Translational Medicine Breath Research
Did you know that every time you exhale you are releasing thousands of molecules into the ambient air? Breath is a diagnostically underexploited body fluid, which contains valuable bio-chemical information about health status. For example, the sense of smell was used by clinicians in ancient Greece and China to retrieve (qualitative) information about their patients. However, nowadays very few diagnostic tests rely on exhaled air. Our mission is to reverse this situation by uncapping the potential that breath analysis holds as a non-invasive method to assist in clinical decision making. To do this, we use modern analytical platforms combined with sophisticated computational tools. In particular, we use modified mass spectrometers, which have been designed to sense exhaled molecules at minute concentrations. Since the analysis requires no sample-preparation or manipulation, the diagnostic result can be obtained nearly in real-time. This technology is especially well suited for children due to its non-invasive nature.
Our breath analysis lab is located at the University Children’s Hospital Basel (UKBB), which provides us with the unique advantage of having direct access to well characterized patients. Our state-of-the art mass spectrometric analytical platform for real-time analysis of exhaled breath consists of an efficient numerically-optimized Secondary Electrospray Ionization source coupled with a high resolution mass spectrometer. In addition, the lab is equipped with an Ultra High Pressure Liquid Chromatography system, which, coupled with the mass spectrometer, is dedicated for metabolite identification. Bio-informatic tools developed in our lab unravel biochemical information encoded in the mass spectral fingerprints of our patients. Ultimately, we aim to improve diagnosis for certain diseases, to better phenotype complex pathophysiological processes, as well as to personalize therapy. In June 2017, the Translational Medicine Breath Research lab was established at UKBB and DBE. We are a multidisciplinary group of basic scientists with diverse academic backgrounds, rooted in a clinical setting.
The group is headed by Pablo Sinues, who is Assistant Tenure Track Professor at DBE, funded by the Botnar Foundation. Our research activities have a strong emphasis on the concept of personalized medicine. Thus, our group contributes locally to the Personalized Health Basel - Infectiology cluster.This cluster aims to bridge the gaps between bench and bedside in infectious diseases by building on and developing multi-scale interdisciplinary approaches that will optimize and develop diagnostic assays and treatment of infectious diseases. Our local research cluster also strongly collaborates with the partner leading institutions in Zürich through the Personalized Health Alliance Zurich-Basel. In addition, because research findings need to be validated independently within other groups, we collaborate extensively with other laboratories using similar analytical techniques. For example, our group is part of the Research Network Zurich Exhalomics (see also here) which is a flagship project of the University Medicine Zurich (Hochschulmedizin Zürich). This is a partnership between ETH Zurich, the University of Zurich, the four university hospitals in Zurich, and us. It promotes collaboration in research and education at the interface between engineering, the sciences, clinical research and medical care.