Analysis of faecal volatile organic compounds in preterm infants who develop necrotising enterocolitis: a pilot study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • CE Garner
  • K Elasouad
  • F Power
  • R Greenwood
  • NM Ratcliffe
  • B de Lacy Costello


OBJECTIVE:: To determine differences in the profiles of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in faecal samples from preterm infants who develop necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) compared with non-NEC controls. MATERIALS AND METHODS:: Daily faecal samples from preterm infants were collected prospectively during an 8-month period from a level 3 regional neonatal intensive care unit. Six infants subsequently developed NEC and were matched with 7 non-NEC infants. Solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography and mass spectrometry were used to extract and identify the VOCs from the headspace above the faecal samples taken before the onset of NEC and after the disease was diagnosed. Faecal samples at similar ages were also studied from the control infants. RESULTS:: Two hundred twenty-four different VOCs were extracted from 65 samples. Volatile organic compounds increased in number with age for non-NEC infants. In the days before and after the diagnosis of NEC a reduction in the number of VOCs extracted was observed. In addition, 4 specific esters present in controls-2-ethylhexyl acetic ester, decanoic acid ethyl ester, dodecanoic acid ethyl ester, and hexadecanoic acid ethyl ester-were consistently absent from all faecal samples in those infants who developed NEC in the 4 days before the onset of the disease. CONCLUSION:: This pilot study shows that VOC extraction from faeces may be used to identify infants that are at risk of developing NEC.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-65
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • Preterm infants, NEC, Faeces, Volatile organic compounds