Breathalyzer for diagnosis of lung diseases, potential for earlier detection

November 30, 2012
Breathalyzer for diagnosis of lung diseases
Some illnesses produce a unique molecular signature in a patient’s breath. Researchers are confident that quadrupole mass spectroscopy will make rapid diagnoses possible.

Siemens is researching a method that may make it possible to diagnose tuberculosis or lung cancer at an early stage using breath samples. The process involves an analysis of the molecular structure of the subject's breath. If the person concerned is ill, there is a shift in the relative quantities of molecules contained in his or her breath. As reported in the current issue of Pictures of the Future magazine, preliminary tests using breath samples from cancer and tuberculosis patients have been very promising. Now the process has to be verified using a larger and more diverse group of people.

According to the , 8.7 million people contracted tuberculosis worldwide in 2011 alone, and the disease killed 1.4 million patients that year. If this disease - which often seems to just be a bad cold when it starts - isn't diagnosed early enough, other people are infected. One effective solution involves a method that could help doctors recognize tuberculosis easily and early on. A method for reliably identifying lung cancer at an early stage has also been lacking until now. That's why the for a patient diagnosed with lung cancer is currently only around two years.

Scientists working for the Siemens department Corporate Technology are making use of the old insight that particular illnesses can be recognized by changes in the odors contained in a person's breath. The cocktail of highly complex molecules contained in a person's breath changes in specific ways when he or she is ill. Researchers use a quadrupole mass spectrometer to identify individual molecules and determine their concentration in the patient's breath. Here, the substances in the breath sample are electrically charged and accelerated through an which affects their trajectory. Particles of different weights are deflected to different degrees and thus land at different places on the detectors. In this way a kind of fingerprint is created from which conclusions about diseases can be drawn.

Now that trials with tuberculosis and patients have been successful, testing has to be carried out in order to determine what influences age, sex and diet have on measurements. Tests of smokers are also pending. If the initial positive results are confirmed, the technology could be further developed for practical applications. To make it suitable for use in a doctor's office, the spectrometer will have to be made small enough to fit inside a suitcase. Additionally, the software will need to be optimized so that it is simple to use.

Explore further: Please Exhale: Quick and Easy Breath Analysis

Related Stories

Please Exhale: Quick and Easy Breath Analysis

November 10, 2006

When we drink alcohol, its “flag” precedes us, and enjoyment of large amounts of garlic or onion can often be detected by others the next morning. However, our breath does not only betray what we have consumed; some diseases ...

Cancer on the breath? The nose knows

May 16, 2011

A breath test for "sniffing out" cancer in a person's breath is a step closer to reality, according to a study recently published in the British Journal of Cancer. The study results show that the device developed by Prof. ...

Trial seeks to sniff out lung cancer

June 19, 2012

Cancer smells different. Past research has shown that dogs can detect lung cancer in a person’s breath with great accuracy. But dogs are  tricky to use as a diagnostic tool; what does it mean when a dog barks once ...

Recommended for you

Basic research fuels advanced discovery

August 26, 2016

Clinical trials and translational medicine have certainly given people hope and rapid pathways to cures for some of mankind's most troublesome diseases, but now is not the time to overlook the power of basic research, says ...

New method creates endless supply of kidney precursor cells

August 25, 2016

Salk Institute scientists have discovered the holy grail of endless youthfulness—at least when it comes to one type of human kidney precursor cell. Previous attempts to maintain cultures of the so-called nephron progenitor ...

New avenue for understanding cause of common diseases

August 25, 2016

A ground-breaking Auckland study could lead to discoveries about many common diseases such as diabetes, cancer and dementia. The new finding could also illuminate the broader role of the enigmatic mitochondria in human development.

Strict diet combats rare progeria aging disorders

August 25, 2016

Mice with a severe aging disease live three times longer if they eat thirty percent less. Moreover, they age much healthier than mice that eat as much as they want. These are findings of a joint study being published today ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tom_Hennessy
1 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2012
The problem of vaccination was because they would use the same needle for everyone who got a vaccination. One can imagine what will happen with this mouthpiece being used to test for tuberculosis ? Will it EVER be sterilised or will it be used for everyone who is tested without ever being cleaned ?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.