It mightn’t quite be Doctor McCoy’s medical diagnostic tricorder, but a new breathalyzer-like device has been developed that can detect the faint chemical signatures produced in the body as a response to various diseases — all from a simple breath sample.

"This is a new and promising direction for diagnosis and classification of diseases, which is characterized not only by considerable accuracy but also by low cost, low electricity consumption, miniaturization, comfort and the possibility of repeating the test easily,” explains to the development team’s leader, Professor Hossam Haick.

The new device, developed by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is based on the ancient idea that diseases can be detected through the patient’s breath. Breath samples were collected from a pool of 1404 subjects, each diagnosed with one of 17 sample diseases. Each sample was analyzed using "an artificially intelligent nanoarray based on molecularly modified gold nanoparticles and a random network of single-walled carbon nanotubes" to detect and record the ailments’ specific chemical signatures.

The samples included the chemical signatures from patients diagnosed with lung cancer, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease (two types), multiple sclerosis, pulmonary hypertension, preeclampsia and chronic kidney disease.

Of these conditions, the researchers found that "13 exhaled chemical species, called volatile organic compounds, are associated with certain diseases, and the composition of this assembly of volatile organic compounds differs from one disease to another." This means each of these chemical fingerprints are unique, and do not interfere with one another when the technique is used to diagnose a patient that has two or more of these ailments. 

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