Scientists are trying to use a new technology to “smell” diseases a human nose cannot. Smell may be the key to a future of more accurate, cheaper, non-invasive diagnostics tests.
Like a super-sensitive human nose, experimental technology can “smell” and identify the chemical composition of a person’s breath and then diagnose up to 17 potential diseases, according to the scientists.
Scientists in Israel are working on a breath test that they say can detect as many as 17 diseases. Meanwhile, a US-based team is testing their device for identifying the breath signature of malaria in Malawi in Africa.
The two developing technologies both use comparisons of chemical compounds found in a healthy breath to the compounds found in the breath of someone with a disease.
These researchers, led by Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, say their Na-Nose, which uses nanoarrays to analyze breath, can identify Parkinson’s disease, various cancers, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease with 86% accuracy.
“I would say our technology in many cases (is) equivalent to the accuracy of the currently available invasive technology,” Haick said, adding that for some diseases, including gastric cancer, Na-Nose has a “much higher” accuracy rate than currently available technologies.
Dr Odom John has been testing her new technology’s accuracy on children in Malawi, Africa. Malaria is much more prevalent in tropical places like Malawi, and among young children.
She and her team identified six breath-scent compounds that were associated with children with malaria. So, the test was 83 percent likely to catch malaria in a child whose breath had all six compounds.
The theory behind the technology is that each of us has a unique chemical “fingerprint.” Each disease also has a particular chemical signature, which can be detected on our breath.
The Na-Nose technology, which consists of a sensor chamber with a breathing tube and software, is able to detect this precise chemistry of disease by interpreting the impact on our usual chemical fingerprint.
Advances in instrumentation, particularly portable monitors, is one factor inspiring and enabling the new research into breath analysis. Researchers hope that this method will be able to provide more information than blood tests can.