The reliable online analysis of volatile compounds in exhaled breath remains a challenge, as a plethora of molecules occur in different concentration ranges (i.e., ppt to %) and need to be detected against an extremely complex background matrix. Although this complexity is commonly addressed by hyphenating a specific analytical technique with appropriate preconcentration and/or preseparation strategies prior to detection, we herein propose the combination of three different detector types based on truly orthogonal measurement principles as an alternative solution: Field-asymmetric ion mobility spectrometry (FAIMS), Fourier-transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy-based sensors utilizing substrate-integrated hollow waveguides (iHWG), and luminescence sensing (LS). By carefully aligning the experimental needs and measurement protocols of all three methods, they were successfully integrated into a single compact analytical platform suitable for online measurements. The analytical performance of this prototype system was tested via artificial breath samples containing nitrogen (N2
), oxygen (O2
), carbon dioxide (CO2
), and acetone as a model volatile organic compound (VOC) commonly present in breath. All three target analytes could be detected within their respectively breath-relevant concentration range, i.e., CO2
at 3-5 % and at ~19.6 %, respectively, while acetone could be detected with LOQs as low as 165-405 ppt. Orthogonality of the three methods operating in concert was clearly proven, which is essential to cover a possibly wide range of detectable analytes. Finally, the remaining challenges toward the implementation of the developed hybrid FAIMS-FTIR-LS system for exhaled breath analysis for metabolic studies in small animal intensive care units are discussed.
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