Asthma and children: how atmospheric science inspires medical diagnostics
One out of ten children suffers from asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs that makes breathing difficult. Right now, there is no standalone test for asthma, especially for young children. The laboratory of atmospheric chemistry (LAC) at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and the University Children’s Hospital (UCH) Zurich are working together on the development of a rapid breath test for asthma using online mass spectrometry. The exhaled breath of young children is analyzed for specific molecules typically present in chronically inflamed bronchial tubes. The technique comes from atmospheric science, where it is used for the analysis of the composition of the air we breathe and the identification of pollution sources. Because the technique delivers reproducible results, it is ideal for medical diagnostics in hospitals. An analysis takes only few minutes and unlike blood analysis, the method has the advantage of being completely non-invasive, making it perfectly suited for the diagnosis of young children. Our development should allow rapid, safe and non-invasive diagnosis of the chronic respiratory disease in children.