Predicting adult health problems in children

June 11, 2013

Imagine if a quick, easy, noninvasive test that kids actually found fun could predict which among them will develop such problems as type 2 diabetes or fatty liver disease later in life.

 

Imagine if a quick, easy, noninvasive test that kids actually found fun could predict which among them would develop such problems as type 2 diabetes or fatty liver disease later in life. Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic say such a test may be possible.

Although very preliminary, the findings of a recent study suggest that the contents of a single exhaled breath combined with a test no more difficult than blowing up a balloon can predict certain adult diseases known to be complications of childhood obesity.

Using a group of 60 obese/overweight children and comparing them to 55 lean controls, researchers measured, using mass spectrometry, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained in exhalation.

They found differences between the obese/overweight children and the lean children in concentrations of more than 50 compounds. Four compounds in particular were significantly higher in the obese group than in the lean group: isoprene, 1-octene, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. The authors concluded that obese children have a unique pattern of exhaled VOCs compared to lean children.

The “breathprint,” as they call it, can provide information on liver dysfunction and cholesterol and can reveal information on oxidative stress-damage to cells, tissues, and organs caused by free radicals and other pro-oxidant molecules.

The findings were presented last month in Orlando, Florida, during Digestive Disease Week, an annual gathering of gastrointestinal physicians, researchers, and academic professionals.

The researchers anticipate that the findings will shed light on the pathophysiologic processes and pathways leading to the development of childhood obesity and to health complications later in life. Although additional studies are needed to verify the results, such a test could permit discovering one’s risk early enough to allow sufficient time for lifestyle changes that could change outcomes.