Scientists have developed a breath analyzer that can detect up to 17 diseases from a single breath. What are some of the potential uses of this device, and how big of a development is it for the medical community?
The sense of smell encodes tons of information for organisms, and not just for external threats. Disgusting as it may seem, the smells that emanate from the human body can be a precise tool for medical diagnosis. By analyzing these chemicals, scientists have been able to diagnose medical problems such as cystic fibrosis. One way humans have taken advantage of this is by using the breathalyzer to test blood alcohol levels.Israel Institute of Technology developed a new breathalyzer that can diagnose up to 17 diseases.Click To Tweet
Now, breathalyzers are capable of detecting much more than the presence of alcohol. At the Israel Institute of Technology, for instance, a new diagnostic breathalyzer is being developed that can diagnose up to 17 diseases while only requiring a single breath from the patient.
A new Diagnostic Breathalyzer
Led by Hossam Haick, the team of researchers at IIT used their compact breathalyzer to collect 2,800 breaths from more than 1,400 patients. The breathalyzer analyzed the chemical makeup of each breath and produced a set of data to catalog them.
The new breathalyzer used an array of gold nanoparticles with carbon tubes of a similar size. Together, the nanoparticles and tubes created a network that reacted differently to the almost 100 volatile compounds that people exhale when they breathe.
To analyze the massive amount of data provided by the breathalyzer, the team used an AI algorithm to search for patterns in the types of compounds that the device detected as well as their concentrations. Each of the 17 diseases had a unique signature in patients’ breaths. Furthermore, the team found that of the 100 volatile compounds in breath, only 13 were the key to detecting diseases.
Is it Just a Diagnosis Device?
The team reported that the diagnostic breathalyzer could accurately identify and diagnose a different disease 86% of the time, which is very close to nine out of ten. The accuracy of the device is not quite high enough for use in clinical settings, but it does represent a significant step forward in the accurate diagnosis of diseases.
With a little improvement, breathalyzers could aid doctors in catching deadly diseases before they can do too much damage. Yet, they could also be turned toward preventative care and even insurance requirements.
Each person’s ‘breathprint’ is different, and that means that there is the potential for this kind of technology to be used for criminal profiling purposes. While some may worry about a Gattaca-like future, others may see the technology enabling people to use hard biometric data instead of any existing prejudices when profiling suspected criminals.
Whatever the uses of the prototype device, it represents a big step forward for the medical community due to its compact size and low cost of production. If the research is pursued further, we may just be breathing for diagnosis.