Volatilomic biomarker profiling of plasma and urine from patients with heart failure

Project Code: 10435649

Faculty: Liggins Institute

Department: Liggins Institute

Main Supervisor: Dr Elizabeth McKenzie (emck002)

Application open date: 13 Sep 2018

Application deadline:

Enrolment information: NZ Citizens, NZ Permanent Residents, International



Heart failure is a common problem in New Zealand and results in significant morbidity, mortality and hospitalisations. There is significant disparity in heart failure prevalence and outcomes, for instance the frequency of heart failure and mortality in Maori is eight times more than in Europeans and in part delays in diagnosis and hospital investigations is a reason for this disparity. An unambiguous, universal test would aid early diagnosis and the initiation of treatment essential in preventing end-stage heart failure.

The measurement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from biofluids is a promising new way of early detection and monitoring of disease processes. VOC’s are best measured using gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS), which is already employed clinically for measuring inborn errors of metabolism.

What we are looking for in a successful applicant


We are looking for an Honours or MSc student with a bachelors degree or equivalent, some laboratory experience and an interest in mass spectrometry.



We have collected plasma and urine samples from 50 patients with heart failure, and 20 from healthy controls. Current methods for volatiles analysis (solvent extraction, solid phase microextraction) are hampered by either inability to recover and detect a wide range of compounds, or are not amenable to quantitation. We will analyse plasma and urine samples quantitatively using sequential dynamic headspace sampling on a thermal desorption GC-MS system. This method will enable detection and quantitation of compounds with a wide range of volatilities.

The result of this project will inform a larger study that could lead to a clinically useful novel non-invasive diagnostic test for heart failure. This should increase healthcare accessibility and reduce disparity.

Other information

Some funding is available for this project - please contact the main supervisor for details.

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