Breath-based non-invasive diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease: a pilot study

J Breath Res. 2020 Feb 14;14(2):026003. doi: 10.1088/1752-7163/ab6016.


Early detection of Alzheimer's disease (AD) will help researchers to better understand the disease and develop improved treatments. Recent developments have thus focused on identifying biomarkers for mild cognitive impairment due to AD (MCI) and AD during the preclinical phase. The aim of this pilot study is to determine whether exhaled volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can be used as a non-invasive method to distinguish controls from MCI, controls from AD and to determine whether there are differences between MCI and AD. The study used gas chromatography-ion mobility spectrometry (GC-IMS) techniques. Confounding factors, such as age, smoking habits, gender and alcohol consumption are investigated to demonstrate the efficacy of results. One hundred subjects were recruited including 50 controls, 25 AD and 25 MCI patients. The subject cohort was age- and gender-matched to minimise bias. Breath samples were analysed using a commercial GC-IMS instrument (G.A.S. BreathSpec, Dortmund, Germany). Data analysis indicates that the GC-IMS signal was consistently able to separate between diagnostic groups [AUC ± 95%, sensitivity, specificity], controls versus MCI: [0.77 (0.64-0.90), 0.68, 0.80], controls versus AD: [0.83 (0.72-0.94), 0.60, 0.96], and MCI versus AD: [0.70 (0.55-0.85), 0.60, 0.84]. VOC analysis indicates that six compounds play a crucial role in distinguishing between diagnostic groups. Analysis of possible confounding factors indicate that gender, age, smoking habits and alcohol consumption have insignificant influence on breath content. This pilot study confirms the utility of exhaled breath analysis to distinguish between AD, MCI and control subjects. Thus, GC-IMS offers great potential as a non-invasive, high-throughput, diagnostic technique for diagnosing and potentially monitoring AD in a clinical setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnosis*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Breath Tests / methods*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Ion Mobility Spectrometry
  • Male
  • Pilot Projects
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds