Feasibility study on exhaled-breath analysis by untargeted Selected-Ion Flow-Tube Mass Spectrometry in children with cystic fibrosis, asthma, and healthy controls: Comparison of data pretreatment and classification techniques

K. Segers, A. Slosse, J. Viaene, M.A.G.E. Bannier, K.D.G. Van de Kant, E. Dompeling, A. Van Eeckhaut, J. Vercammen, Y. Vander Heyden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)


Selected-Ion Flow-Tube Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS) has been applied in a clinical context as diagnostic tool for breath samples using target biomarkers. Exhaled breath sampling is non-invasive and therefore much more patient friendly compared to bronchoscopy, which is the golden standard for evaluating airway inflammation. In the actual pilot study, 55 exhaled breath samples of children with asthma, cystic-fibrosis and healthy individuals were included. Rather than focusing on the analysis of target biomarkers or on the identification of biomarkers, different data analysis strategies, including a variety of pretreatment, classification and discrimination techniques, are evaluated regarding their capacity to distinguish the three classes based on subtle differences in their full scan SIFT-MS spectra. Proper data-analysis strategies are required because these full scan spectra contain much external, i.e. unwanted, variation. Each SIFT-MS analysis generates three spectra resulting from ionmolecule reactions of analyte molecules with H3O+, NO+ and O-2(+). Models were built with Linear Discriminant Analysis, Quadratic Discriminant Analysis, Soft Independent Modelling by Class Analogy, Partial Least Squares - Discriminant Analysis, K-Nearest Neighbours, and Classification and Regression Trees. Perfect models, concerning overall sensitivity and specificity (100% for both) were found using Direct Orthogonal Signal Correction (DOSC) pretreatment. Given the uncertainty related to the classification models associated with DOSC pretreatments (i.e. good classification found also for random classes), other models are built applying other preprocessing approaches. A Partial Least Squares - Discriminant Analysis model with a combined pre-processing method considering single value imputation results in 100% sensitivity and specificity for calibration, but was less good predictive. Pareto scaling prior to Quadratic Discriminant Analysis resulted in 41/55 correctly classified samples for calibration and 34/55 for cross-validation. In future, the uncertainty with DOSC and the applicability of the promising preprocessing methods and models must be further studied applying a larger representative data set with a more extensive number of samples for each class. Nevertheless, this pilot study showed already some potential for the untargeted SIFT-MS application as a rapid pattern-recognition technique, useful in the diagnosis of clinical breath samples.
Original languageEnglish
Article number122080
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Exhaled breath analysis
  • Selected-Ion Flow-Tube Mass Spectrometry
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Classification and discrimination
  • Data preprocessing techniques

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