Disease Diagnosis Via Breathalyzers?

By Janet Taylor

A new instrument has recently been developed to diagnose disease in a non-invasive, cost effective manner. Based on the idea of the breathalyzers used to identify and quantify alcohol consumption, this device would allow for specific programmable disease detection in still healthy individuals. Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are expressed by the body when pathologic processes occur.


By linking the exhalation of these chemicals to specific diseases, physicians will be able to diagnose disease in the early stages based on both presence and quantities exhaled and possibly identify individuals who are at high risk for development of specific diseases.



Figure 1. Schematic representation of the concept and design of the study. It involved collection of breath samples from 1404 subjects in 14 departments in nine clinical centers in five different countries (Israel, France, USA, Latvia, and China). The population included 591 healthy controls and 813 patients diagnosed with one of 17 different diseases: 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, pre-eclampsia, and chronic kidney disease. One breath sample obtained from each subject was analyzed with the artificially intelligent nanoarray for disease diagnosis and classification, and a second was analyzed with GC-MS for exploring its chemical composition. Source


Currently, seventeen diseases can be identified with breath analysis with an accuracy of eighty-six percent. Researchers were able to program the device to detect normal chemicals present in saliva as well so that if a significant variation is present, a red flag is sent up indicating that there is a maladaptive process occurring. This device could be a significant advance with improved accuracy recordings, as detection of cancer and various other diseases require invasive, often painful exams for diagnosis.


Early detection is key to improved outcomes for fatal diseases as well. The potential identification of at risk individuals before the presentation of clinical signs and symptoms could allow for a more pro-active treatment approach before the patient becomes ill or debilitated.


So far, included in the seventeen diseases selected for are two types of Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease, and cancers including lung cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology led the research of the device. Take a look at an interview with Haick below:


Video: Source


This technology has enormous potential in diagnostics but improvements in the nanomaterials used to identify samples are required to improve accuracy. The device contains sensors specific for the normal exhaled salivary contents as well as those linked to disease, however, they are not specific enough yet for comorbid conditions or those with overlapping chemistries. The identification alone, however, serves as a jump start for future technologies that will be portal, cost effective and less invasive.


Featured Image: Source


Nakhleh, Morad et al.(2016). Diagnosis and Classification of 17 Diseases from 1404 Subjects via Pattern Analysis of Exhaled Molecules.  ACS Nano. DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.6b04930

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