An electronic nose can be used to successfully detect different sub-groups of asthmatic children, according to a new study presented at the European Respiratory Society in Munich.

The trial, part of the U-BIOPRED (Unbiased BIOmarkers in PREDiction of respiratory disease outcomes) research project analysed the profile of exhaled breath in samples from 106 children with asthma or wheeze. This involved looking at particles in the breath known as exhaled volatile compounds, which are then analysed by e-noses.

The results showed five distinct sub-groups and each cluster contained patients with similar breath profiles. The findings suggest that exhaled-breath analysis by an e-nose can be useful in understanding the differences between individuals with asthma, which could ultimately help with identifying sub-groups of the condition.

Paul Brinkman, lead author of the study from the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said: “We know electronic noses have the potential to help us understand more about a range of lung diseases. In this study, we have shown that they are an effective method of understanding more about the subtle differences seen between people with asthma.

He added that “by classifying asthma into different subgroups, we might be able to provide much more tailored treatment for each individual.”

Discussions about the benefits of e-noses in a number of areas, particularly cancer, have been going on for several years now. Peter Sterk of the University of Amsterdam who was also involved in the study, told PharmaTimes that good progress is being made in getting them into clinical practice and he likened the timeline to the development of a drug, saying that investment in this area has improved.

Prof Sterk added that the e-nose represents “cheap technology which will help medicine go further” and will involve just a couple of minutes in the doctor’s office.