Breath biomarkers for detection of human liver diseases: Preliminary study

Shelley S. Sehnert, Long Jiang, James F. Burdick, Terence H. Risby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

107 Scopus citations


Chronic liver disease is initially occult, has multiple aetiologies, involves complex diagnostic questions, and requires follow-up because progression is likely. Blood tests and biopsies are generally used, but have disadvantages. We have developed a new test for liver disease based on abnormal concentrations of metabolic products detected in exhaled breath. This test can be used, in conjunction with other clinically accepted diagnostic protocols, to detect and classify chronic liver disease. Samples of breath collected from spontaneously breathing human subjects (86 patients presenting with 13 liver diseases and 109 subjects with normal liver function) were concentrated cryogenically and analysed by wide-bore capillary gas chromatography using various detectors. The concentrations of various molecules in exhaled breath were examined for potential use as biomarkers of liver function. Subjects with chronic liver diseases could be differentiated from those with normal liver function by comparing levels of breath carbonyl sulphide, carbon disulphide and isoprene; these differences were confirmed and correlated by comparing the levels with standard clinical blood markers of liver damage. The presence of chronic liver failure can thus be detected with sensitivity and specificity by quantifying sulphur-containing compounds arising from the abnormal metabolism associated with liver disease. The breath test we have developed appears to distinguish between hepatocellular and biliary tract aetiologies, and allows staging for severity. This approach may provide the clinician with a simple, non-invasive technique for use in the screening of large populations and follow-up for patients with chronic liver disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)174-187
Number of pages14
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Breath carbonyl sulphide
  • Carbon disulphide
  • Dimethyl sulphide
  • Diseases of the bile duct
  • Hepatocellular diseases
  • Isoprene
  • Liver diseases
  • Staging disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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