A Breathalyzer for Cancer

A breathalyzer for cancer Ancient Greek physicians believed that our breath was a strong health indicator. Today, researchers at the Israel Institute of Technology have proven just how true that is. They have developed a new device that uses nanoparticles to identify 17 different diseases, such as lung cancer and Parkinson's disease, from just a single breath. While it is not accurate enough yet for real-life clinical diagnoses, it shows high promise as a quick, non-invasive test that could catch diseases in their early stages.
They started by taking breath samples from more than 1,400 patients. From this data, they then identified 13 chemicals found in eight types of cancers, Crohn's disease, Parkinson's disease, pulmonary hypertension and other diseases. Each of those volatile organic compounds is present in varying amounts, forming a distinctive "fingerprint" for each ailment. "These odor signatures are what enables us to identify the diseases using the technology that we developed," says research lead Prof. Hossam Haick.
 
To find the presence and ratio of these chemicals, the team built an "artificially intelligent nanoarray" called the Na-Nose. It uses specific sensors, like one made from gold nanoparticles and another using a network of carbon nanotubes, to sense the different compounds. The data is then analyzed by an artificial intelligence system, which takes into account age, gender and other factors, picking out the right affliction 86 percent of the time.
 
While that is not good enough to make a exact diagnosis, but it could be used as a routine test to catch diseases in their early phases when they're much more treatable. "For example, in the case of lung cancer we can increase the survival rate from 10 to 70 percent by early diagnosis," Haick said.
 
It could even be used to identify people who aren't sick yet, but have a higher risk than others for certain conditions. Moreover, Haick adds, "it is available without the need for invasive and unpleasant procedures, it's not dangerous, and you can sample it again and again if necessary."


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