A new study presented at the European Respiratory Society International Congress in Munich, Germany, claims an electronic nose can sniff out asthma subtypes in children, which may lead to more personalized treatments for the disorder.

Child using inhalerShare on Pinterest
An electronic nose was able to detect five asthma subtypes in the exhaled breath of children, according to researchers.

Asthma is one of the most common disorders in childhood, affecting approximately 7.1 million children in the US. The condition is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, claiming responsibility for around 774,000 emergency room visits in 2009.

According to the researchers of this study, led by Paul Brinkman of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, it is now widely acknowledged that there are many different forms of asthma that affect individuals in various ways.

Current studies on asthma are focused on categorizing the disorder into subtypes and determining the underlying mechanisms of each one, the team says. If these studies are successful, the researchers say asthma treatment could be tailored to each person, potentially resulting in better outcomes.

Electronic noses, or e-noses, are devices that can identify specific chemicals that make up an odor, and they seem to be all the rage in current medical research.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study by researchers from the University of Leicester in the UK, which detailed the creation of an e-nose they say can detect Clostridium difficile (C. diff) bacteria.

Earlier this year, a study from Finland revealed how an e-nose could detect prostate cancer from a urine sample.

In this study, Brinkman and his team used an e-nose to detect particles known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the exhaled breath of 106 children, all of whom had asthma or wheeze.

The e-nose was able to detect five specific asthma subtypes among the children, based on different breath profiles. The team then looked at the clinical characteristics of each of these subtypes, and found that they presented different symptoms in the children and varied by age.

The researchers say their findings indicate that analyzing exhaled breath via an e-nose could be a promising strategy in determining the differences between people with asthma.

Brinkman adds:

In this study, we have shown that [electronic noses] are an effective method of understanding more about the subtle differences seen between people with asthma. By classifying asthma into different subgroups, we might be able to provide much more tailored treatment for each individual.”

This study is part of the Unbiased Biomarkers in Prediction of Respiratory Disease Outcomes (U-BIOPRED) project, which aims to learn more about asthma and improve diagnosis and treatment for the condition.

Last month, we reported on a study published in the American Journal of Physiology claiming stress in pregnancy can increase asthma risk for offspring.