Scientists Invent Breathalyzer for Disease Diagnosis

System developed by international team headed by Technion's Prof. Hossam Haick can identify 17 diseases so far, including cancers and neurodegenerative conditions.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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The Technion's Prof. Hossam Haick illustrates how exhaled breath can be analyzed.
The Technion's Prof. Hossam Haick illustrates how exhaled breath can be analyzed.Credit: Technion spokesperson
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Diagnosis is notoriously an art form, but now your doctor – or rather, a mass spectrometer – may be able to tell what ails you by the smell of your breath.

An international team of researchers has proved that different diseases, including certain types of cancer and even Parkinson's Disease, are characterized by different chemical signatures in exhaled breath. The findings were published in ACS Nano.

Disease diagnosis through breath analysis has been developing for years. In 2014, for instance, the Journal of Breath Research dwelled at length on work being done at Oxford to rather crudely diagnose diabetes though identifying acetone in exhalations. An Italian team also worked on identifying volatile organic compounds unique to colorectal cancer in the breath. But the present team, which includes 56 researchers from five countries, is the first to categorically prove that different diseases can be characterized by distinct chemical breath signatures.

The study comprised over 1,400 patients in Israel, France, the United States, Latvia and China and encompassed 17 unrelated conditions: cancers of the lung, colon, head and neck, ovaries, bladder, prostate, kidney and stomach; Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis; irritable bowel syndrome; two distinct types of Parkinson’s disease; multiple sclerosis; pulmonary hypertension; preeclampsia; and chronic kidney disease.

A chart showing how the breath analysis works.Credit: Technion spokesperson

The team, led by Prof. Hossam Haick of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, found 13 chemicals common to all these diseases. Each disease has a unique composition of these 13, explains 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."

The nanotechnology system Haick developed samples the breath and analyzes the data obtained from the sensors. The team claims the device works well. "Our system has detected and classified various diseases with an average accuracy of 86%," Haick stated, adding that the technology can be developed to provide diagnosis at quickly and at a low cost.

“Breath is an excellent raw material for diagnosis,” Haick also points out. “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.”

The Technion's Prof. Hossam Haick holds the diagnostic array used to test breath samples.Credit: Technion spokesperson

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