Background & Aims: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is the commonest cause of chronic liver disease in the western world. Current diagnostic methods including Fibroscan have limitations, thus there is a need for more robust non-invasive screening methods. The gut microbiome is altered in several gastrointestinal and hepatic disorders resulting in altered, unique gut fermentation patterns, detectable by analysis of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in urine, breath and faeces. We performed a proof of principle pilot study to determine if progressive fatty liver disease produced an altered urinary VOC pattern; specifically NAFLD and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH).

Methods: 34 patients were recruited: 8 NASH cirrhotics (NASH-C); 7 non-cirrhotic NASH; 4 NAFLD and 15 controls. Urine was collected and stored frozen. For assay, the samples were defrosted and aliquoted into vials, which were heated to 40±0.1°C and the headspace analyzed by FAIMS (Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectroscopy). A previously used data processing pipeline employing a Random Forrest classification algorithm and using a 10 fold cross validation method was applied.

Urinary VOC results demonstrated sensitivity of 0.58 (0.33 - 0.88), but specificity of 0.93 (0.68 - 1.00) and an Area Under Curve (AUC) 0.73 (0.55 -0.90) to distinguish between liver disease and controls. However, NASH/NASH-C was separated from the NAFLD/controls with a sensitivity of 0.73 (0.45 - 0.92), specificity of 0.79 (0.54 - 0.94) and AUC of 0.79 (0.64 - 0.95), respectively.
Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that urinary VOCs detection may offer the potential for early non-invasive characterisation of liver disease using 'smell prints' to distinguish between NASH and NAFLD.


FAIMS, NAFLD, NASH, cirrhosis, screening, urine, volatile organic compounds