Every breath you take

Research at the University of Oklahoma has yielded a way of using a laser to analyse exhalations of asthma sufferers, opening the door to more accurate diagnosis and treatment of the malady.

Research at the University of Oklahoma has yielded a novel way of using a laser to analyse exhalations of asthma sufferers, opening the door to more accurate diagnosis and prescriptive treatment of the malady.

Patrick McCann, through a National Science Foundation research award, coupled a laser spectroscopy system to a tuneable laser to create a device that can accurately and simultaneously measure both carbon dioxide and nitric oxide levels of a single exhalation of breath.

The precise measurements provided by McCann’s instrument might help doctors evaluate airway inflammation and prescribe medications at a level of accuracy corresponding to the measurement, thereby providing the most efficient and effective treatment while eliminating overmedication.

In diagnosing and treating asthma, physicians must assess how much air is actually flowing through a patient’s airways, which is made more difficult with airway inflammation. Airway inflammation itself is most often assessed by physically invasive procedures. Earlier research found that asthmatics exhale more nitric oxide when their airways are inflamed, making measurement of its levels the preferred method for determining inflammation severity.

At present, nitric oxide levels are measured with devices that analyse chemiluminescence, a photochemical reaction between nitrogen and an ozone sample. Multiple tests are sometimes necessary. Also, chemiluminescence-based devices require periodic recalibration, whereas McCann’s laser does not.

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials.