Adnan Azim, Clair Barber, Paddy Dennison, John Riley, Peter Howarth
European Respiratory Journal 2019 54: 1900056; DOI: 10.1183/13993003.00056-2019
The search for biomarkers that can guide precision medicine in asthma, particularly those that can be translated to the clinic, has seen recent interest in exhaled volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Given the number of studies reporting “breathomics” findings and its growing integration in clinical trials, we performed a systematic review of the literature to summarise current evidence and understanding of breathomics technology in asthma.
A PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses)-oriented systematic search was performed (CRD42017084145) of MEDLINE, Embase and the Cochrane databases to search for any reports that assessed exhaled VOCs in adult asthma patients, using the following terms (asthma AND (volatile organic compounds AND exhaled) OR breathomics).
Two authors independently determined the eligibility of 2957 unique records, of which 66 underwent full-text review. Data extraction and risk of bias assessment was performed on the 22 studies deemed to fulfil the search criteria. The studies are described in terms of methodology and the evidence narratively summarised under the following clinical headings: diagnostics, phenotyping, treatment stratification, treatment monitoring and exacerbation prediction/assessment.
Our review found that most studies were designed to assess diagnostic potential rather than focus on underlying biology or treatable traits. Results are generally limited by a lack of methodological standardisation and external validation and by insufficiently powered studies, but there is consistency across the literature that exhaled VOCs are sensitive to underlying inflammation. Modern studies are applying robust breath analysis workflows to large multi-centre study designs, which should unlock the full potential of measurement of exhaled volatile organic compounds in airways diseases such as asthma.