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January 3rd, 2017 at 4:19 pm

Scientists can identify unique “breathprint” of diseases

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A team of international researchers recently unveiled a nano array that can identify the chemical signatures of 17 different diseases, possibly bringing us closer to the day when doctors might be able to use a medical tricorder a la Star Trek to instantly diagnose a patient’s conditions.

Though it isn’t exactly a new idea – Hippocrates wrote about the correlation between breath odors and disease back in 400 B.C. and traditional Chinese medicine has long seen halitosis as an indication of an unbalanced qi – using breath tests to diagnose and monitor bodily disorders and disease is a research field that has been gaining momentum in recent years. And for good reason too. It would be the ultimate diagnostic test – potentially inexpensive and painless (not to mention a godsend for anyone with a fear of needles), and it would be able to deliver results fairly quickly too.

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A team of international researchers recently unveiled a nano array that can identify the chemical signatures of 17 different diseases, possibly bringing us closer to the day when doctors might be able to use a medical tricorder a la Star Trek to instantly diagnose a patient’s conditions.

Though it isn’t exactly a new idea – Hippocrates wrote about the correlation between breath odors and disease back in 400 B.C. and traditional Chinese medicine has long seen halitosis as an indication of an unbalanced qi – using breath tests to diagnose and monitor bodily disorders and disease is a research field that has been gaining momentum in recent years. And for good reason too. It would be the ultimate diagnostic test – potentially inexpensive and painless (not to mention a godsend for anyone with a fear of needles), and it would be able to deliver results fairly quickly too.

Using mass spectrometry to identify the breath components associated with the diseases, they found that each disease produces a unique volatile chemical breathprint, based on differing amounts of 13 components.

The data was then entered into a computer system, which identified disease with an accuracy of 86 percent. Since factors such as gender, age, smoking habits and geographic location can affect the accuracy of the results, the team also examined the effects of these elements on the breath samples and found they did not impair the array’s sensitivity. Equally important was the fact that the presence of one disease did not prevent the detection of others – a prerequisite for developing a portable diagnostic device to detect various diseases in a noninvasive and inexpensive manner.

Likening the AI to the way a dog recognizes a scent, Haick says the system can be taught to associate a breathprint with a particular disease. “We let it smell a given disease but instead of a nose we use chemical sensors, and instead of the brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent,” he told Smithsonian.com.

Such a system would do away with the need for costly and invasive procedures such as biopsies, and could also be used to detect early-stage diseases, thus increasing one’s chances of survival.

“Breath is an excellent raw material for diagnosis,” says Haick. “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.”

In addition, its application extends beyond medical diagnostics and as long as the AI receives the appropriate training, it can be used to detect everything from food spoilage to explosives.

Haick explains the team’s work in the video below.

The study was published in ACS Nano.

Image Credit: American Chemical Society 
Article via newatlas.com

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