A team from the Israel Institute of Technology has developed a device that from a single breath can identify diseases such as multiple forms of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
While the machine is still in the experimental stages, it has a high degree of promise for use in non-invasive diagnoses of serious illnesses.
The international team demonstrated that a medical theory first proposed by the Greek physician Hippocrates some 2400 years ago is true, certain diseases leave a “breathprint” on the exhalations of those afflicted.
The researchers created a prototype for a machine that can pick up on those diseases using the outgoing breath of a patient.
The machine, called the Na-Nose, tests breath samples for the presence of trace amounts of chemicals that are indicative of 17 different illnesses.
“Each of these diseases is characterized by a unique fingerprint, meaning a different composition of these 13 chemical components,” said study lead Prof. Hossam Haick.
“Just as each of us has a unique fingerprint that distinguishes us from others, each disease has a chemical signature that distinguishes it from other diseases and from a normal state of health.
These odor signatures are what enables us to identify the diseases using the technology that we developed.”
“A total of 2,808 breath samples were collected from 1,404 subjects having one of 17 different disease types that had been put into three main categories (cancerous, inflammatory, and neurological diseases) and one group of uncorrelated diseases, as well as a group of healthy controls,” the team writes.
They found each of the 17 diseases that they searched were produced a different ‘breathprint’ – a different amount and combination of 13 different VOCs – that could allow them to accurately pinpoint if a participant had one of these disease or not:
- lung cancer
- colorectal cancer
- head and neck cancer
- ovarian cancer
- bladder cancer
- prostate cancer
- kidney cancer
- gastric cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome
- idiopathic Parkinson’s
- atypical Parkinsonism
- multiple sclerosis
- pulmonary arterial hypertension
- chronic kidney disease.
The study also found that they could detect multiple diseases in one person, meaning the device could be used to check a person who had previously developed one type of cancer for alternative sources of tumours, or other conditions.
Further research on a larger pool of patients is now required before doctors can say for sure if the device will be useful in the broader medical community.
The ultimate goal is to create a portable device that can easily and quickly indicate the presence of a range of diseases to help make more accurate diagnoses in future.
Most instruments are not sensitive enough to measure the levels of chemicals associated with the specific diseases, but the Israeli team’s device uses an “artificially intelligent nanoarray” of gold nanoparticles and carbon nanotube sensor technology to collect data, which is then analyzed by a spectrometer that accounts for factors including age and gender.
The team’s work has been published in ACS Nano.