Analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath is of increasing interest in the diagnosis of lung infection. Over 2,000 VOCs can be detected through gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC-MS); patterns of VOC detected can offer information on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, lung cancer and interstitial lung disease. Unfortunately, GC-MS while highly sensitive cannot be done at the bedside and at best takes hours to prepare samples, run the analysis and then interpret the results.
Compared with other methods of breath analysis, ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) offers a tenfold higher detection rate of VOCs. By coupling an ion mobility spectrometer with a GC column, GC-IMS offers immediate twofold separation of VOCs with visualisation in a three-dimensional chromatogram. The total analysis time is about 300 seconds and the equipment has been miniaturised to allow bedside analysis.
The primary objective of this trial is to perform an GC-IMS metabolomic definition study in patients with clinical features consistent with pneumonia or chest infection to identify a signature of COVID-19 pneumonia in patients exposed to SARS-CoV-2, compared to unexposed patients or those without pneumonia. This would allow for the identification of biomarkers in breath that characterise COVID-19.