Scientists have developed a portable breath analyzer that can accurately and rapidly detect acute
respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The device promises to increase rates of survival and
reduce healthcare costs for people with a potentially life-threatening lung condition.
The team describes the development and testing of the compact new technology — which is
roughly the size of a shoebox — in a paper that features in the journal Analytical and
Timely diagnosis and tracking of ARDS are very challenging because the condition can alter and
progress rapidly and has several possible causes.
The most commonly used ARDS prediction tools are only correct about 18% of the time," says
co-senior study author Xudong Fan, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of
Michigan, in Ann Arbor.
In contrast, he and his colleagues showed that the fully automated portable breath analyzer can
diagnose ARDS with an accuracy verging on 90% in around 30 minutes.
The researchers tested the technology on 48 volunteers who were receiving treatment at the
University of Michigan hospital. Of the volunteers, 21 had ARDS and the others served as
We have found, Prof. Fan, explains, that if our device tells us the patient is positive for ARDS,
it's highly likely that they're positive."
The technology in the device uses gas chromatography to analyze nearly 100 molecules in
exhaled breath. It captures a sample of breath through a tube that connects to a mechanical
ventilator's exhalation port.
The results of the analysis allow doctors not only to test for ARDS but also to determine how far
advanced the condition is. The device can also monitor treatment progress after diagnosis.
We are able to detect the onset and improvement of the condition before traditional changes in
X-rays and blood testing would occur, Prof. Fan explains.
Most people who develop ARDS are in the hospital, receiving treatment for other health
It is rare for ARDS to develop outside of the hospital; when this happens, it is most likely
because the person already has severe pneumonia or a similar serious condition.
According to information about the present study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
around 200,000 people develop ARDS and 74,000 dies of the condition every year in the United
Pneumonia, sepsis, trauma, and aspiration are among the causes of ARDS. These cause the lungs
to become inflamed and fill up with fluid. The fluid obstructs the lungs' tiny air sacs, through
which oxygen passes into the blood and carbon dioxide passes out of it.
People with ARDS usually require intensive care treatment and support from mechanical
ventilators until their lungs heal.
However, many of those who survive ARDS struggle to get back to their regular activities
because their lung function remains poor.
Detecting ARDS earlier is key to improving the chances and quality of recovery.
Our ability to improve outcomes with ARDS, says co-senior study author Kevin R. Ward, a
professor of emergency medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan,
has been basically halted by the lack of technologies that can rapidly and accurately diagnose
the disease early, as well as track its progress."
The current method for diagnosing ARDS relies on chest X-rays, which are costly and involve
radiation exposure, and blood tests, which are invasive.
These procedures take hours to produce results and doctors have to repeat them to monitor
progress. At their best, they can only show how the condition was earlier; they don’t track it in
All our current methods result in us treating the disease too late or not having information that
tells us if our therapies are making a difference soon enough," Prof. Ward explains.
By utilizing exhaled breath, the technology we have developed solves both problems and opens
up significant opportunities to allow us to treat earlier and to develop a host of precision
medicine therapies for ARDS."
The team foresees opportunities to develop the technology for more rapid diagnosis and better
tracking of several other inflammatory conditions that affect the lungs or blood, such as
pneumonia, asthma, and sepsis.
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