The researchers are using a 500,000 infrastructure grant from the Higher Education Funding Council along with a contribution from the University to equip the Unit.
Professor Sims explains that human breath contains a range of by-products (so-called volatile organic compounds) from bodily processes. Identified by an novel instrument called a real-time mass spectrometer, they can provide clues to a wide range of diseases. He says: "An obvious example is ketones, which we detect in the breath of diabetics during hypoglycaemia. But there are also chemicals that can or could be used to indicate conditions such as asthma, sepsis, liver disease, heart disease, and several types of cancer." While gases in the breath are the main focus, the same technology can be used to analyse urine and faeces.
Sepsis is especially interesting as a target because it is hard to detect at an early stage and is a considerable burden on the NHS and is expected to exhibit a number of different effects on the body that can be detected by the combined instrumentation.
Space technology is behind the imaging equipment used to gather information from patients, using visible light wavelengths as well as invisible infra-red light.
It includes a thermal imager to see patients' surface and core temperatures by imaging appropriate targets on the body. Comparing the two temperatures can reveal disease because one response to illness is to withdraw blood from peripheral parts of the body.
Other devices (multi-spectral and hyper-spectral imagers) can detect subtle changes in skin colour. Liver disease is associated with yellowing of the skin and it is possible that this equipment could detect it before it is readily visible to the human eye. Imaging technology can also see veins close to the surface of the
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