BACKGROUND: Metabolomics refers to study of the metabolome, the entire set of metabolites produced by a biological system. The application of metabolomics to exhaled breath samples - breathomics - is a rapidly growing field with potential application to asthma diagnosis and management.
OBJECTIVES: We aimed to review the adult asthma breathomic literature and present a comprehensive list of volatile organic compounds identified by asthma breathomic models.
METHODS: We undertook a systematic search for literature on exhaled volatile organic compounds in adult asthma. We assessed the quality of studies and performed a qualitative synthesis.
RESULTS: We identified twenty studies; these were methodologically heterogenous with a variable risk of bias. Studies almost universally reported breathomics to be capable of differentiating - with moderate or greater accuracy - between samples from healthy controls and those with asthma; and to be capable of phenotyping disease. However, there was little concordance in the compounds upon which discriminatory models were based.
CONCLUSION: Results to-date are promising but validation in independent prospective cohorts is needed. This may be challenging given the high levels of inter-individual variation. However, large-scale, multi-centre studies are underway and validation efforts have been aided by the publication of technical standards likely to increase inter-study comparability. Successful validation of breathomic models for diagnosis and phenotyping would constitute an important step towards personalised medicine in asthma.