What if — with just a single breath — you could be tested for Parkinson's disease or cancer? That day is coming soon, now that scientists have developed a method of diagnosing illnesses based on a patient's breath — and they found it effective for 17 test diseases, including many forms of cancers.
Doctors have long since known that breath can be a predictor of some conditions. For example, a sweet smell can indicate diabetes in some patients. It was this premise that piqued interest at the Technion lab at the Israel Institute of Technology, and a team led by professor Hossam Haick set out to determine whether a simple breath test could flag serious diseases.
Breathing exhales nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen, and trace chemical components that vary, given an individual's health. Diseases have a fingerprint — based on varying degrees of those specific trace chemical components that each disease emits — and one of the ways diseases emit this signature is through our breath. If a patient has more than one disease, each disease emits a signature that is unique and each would be detectable.
Researchers set out to capture this emission via human breathing. Employing nanotechnology, Haick and his team developed sensors smaller than a grain of salt that can distinguish between various conditions, via a coating of an organic layer that would respond to a specific disease or cancer emission. The organic layers were created based on the known composition of a specific disease, verified in the lab.
"Nanotubes," made from carbon and gold, were used as the vehicle to which the coating was applied. Study participants simply blew into a specialized breathalyzer developed by Haick and his team. "We can train this device in an electronic and digital way so we can smell these fingerprints of the disease which appear in exhaled breath," Haick said in a video posted on Technion's website.
Researchers analyzed breath samples from 1,404 test patients, some of which had one of the test diseases and some of which had no disease (control subjects). They determined that the nanotechnology passed the sniff test for accuracy 86 percent of the time. And since the method could provide early detection, it could jump-start early treatment. "If we can identify the disease or cancer at very early stages, we can [increase] survival rate," Haick said.
In this study, scientists tested their breathalyzer for lung cancer, colon cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, irritable bowel disease, gastric cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Parkinson’s, atypical Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and chronic kidney disease.
Results were reported in the ACS Nano journal.
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