Non-invasive breath gas analysis

© Fraunhofer ITEM, Ralf Mohr
© Fraunhofer ITEM, Ralf Mohr

Exhaled breath contains large quantities of fine aerosol particles and various gaseous components. The latter include water vapor, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, but also carbon monoxide (CO), nitric oxide (NO), and a variety of volatile organic compounds (VOC). While CO and NO measurements are already in clinical use, providing information on smoking habits or the severity of allergic airway inflammation, the huge amount of information contained in VOC in exhaled breath has been little exploited so far. Small, handy devices allowing fast and reliable analysis of exhaled breath are already available for blood alcohol measurement and detection of drug consumption. Over the past few years, however, research has shown that VOC composition in exhaled breath can provide additional clues to inflammatory processes, metabolic disorders, tumors, and infections. Indeed, exhaled VOC originate not only from the lungs, but reflect metabolic processes in the whole body.


Fraunhofer ITEM scientists are investigating the potential of non-invasive VOC measurement in exhaled breath to help detect inflammatory processes in a variety of diseases. The aim is to develop simple and inexpensive methods suited for use in daily clinical practice to closely monitor airway inflammation in clinical trials with novel anti-inflammatory drug candidates.

Expertise of Fraunhofer ITEM

Fraunhofer ITEM’s close collaboration with the Hannover Medical School and the participation of both these institutions in the network of the German Center for Lung Research (DZL, BREATH) provides an optimal setting for this research, giving access to large cohorts of well-characterized patients at 4 additional locations in Germany. Furthermore, due to the expertise and equipment available at Fraunhofer ITEM for experimental exposure of test subjects to ozone, LPS, allergen, and particles, these new methods can be systematically tested under accurately defined conditions. Thanks to the technological cooperation with the university of Hannover (Leibniz Universität Hannover), the Fraunhofer scientists have access for their research not only to the analytical methods available at Fraunhofer ITEM (thermo-desorption – gas chromatography – mass spectrometry, TD-GC-MS in short), but also to leading-edge, highly sensitive methods (ion mobility spectroscopy, IMS in short) that are key to the further development of small, handy devices for on-site measurements.


  1. A Gaida, O Holz, C Nell, S Schuchardt, B Lavae-Mokhtari, L Kruse, U Boas, J Langejuergen, M Allers, S Zimmermann. A dual center study to compare breath volatile organic compounds from smokers and non-smokers with and without COPD. Journal of Breath Research. Apr. 2016
  2. M Allers, J Langejuergen, A Gaida, O Holz, S Schuchardt, J M Hohlfeld, S Zimmermann. Measurement of exhaled volatile organic compounds from patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) using closed gas loop GC-IMS and GC-APCI-MS. Journal of Breath Research. Apr. 2016


Olaf Holz

Contact Press / Media

Dr. Olaf Holz

Manager of the Working Group on Clinical Methods Development

Phone +49 511 5350-8141