Detection of metabolites of trapped humans using ion mobility spectrometry coupled with gas chromatography

For the first time, ion mobility spectrometry coupled with rapid gas chromatography, using multicapillary columns, was applied for the development of a pattern of signs of life for the localization of entrapped victims after disaster events (e.g., earthquake, terroristic attack). During a simulation experiment with entrapped volunteers, 12 human metabolites could be detected in the air of the void with sufficient sensitivity to enable a valid decision on the presence of a living person. Using a basic normalized summation of the measured concentrations, all volunteers involved in the particular experiments could be recognized only few minutes after they entered the simulation void and after less than 3 min of analysis time. An additional independent validation experiment enabled the recognition of a person in a room of ∼25 m3 after ∼30 min with sufficiently high sensitivity to detect even a person briefly leaving the room. Undoubtedly, additional work must be done on analysis time and weight of the equipment, as well as on validation during real disaster events. However, the enormous potential of the method as a significantly helpful tool for search-and-rescue operations, in addition to trained canines, could be demonstrated.

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CC BY-NC-ND 4.0