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Life-Saving Breath

Posted January 07, 2017 12:00 AM by M-ReeD
Pathfinder Tags: breathalyzer disease

We have all been in contact with foul-smelling breath before; whether it was your own, a significant other’s, or maybe the breath of a close-talking stranger. Surprisingly, that scent might carry valuable information about your health…and that information might prove to be life-saving.

A “breathalyzer” device, which is described in a study published in the journal ACS Nano, has been developed to detect diseases by simply measuring the user’s breath.

The study operates under the idea that every disease has a “breathpoint,” meaning that certain smells, or the absence of certain smells, might hint at the presence of particular diseases in the body.

The study, which tested over 1,400 participants (both sick and healthy) from five different countries, identified over 100 chemical compounds that are exhaled with each breath. Of the 100, 13 of those chemical compounds were associated with specific diseases. An “artificially intelligent” nanoarray was used to measure the concentrations of the chemicals. If the concentrations were too high or too low, it was an indication that something might be wrong. That data was further analyzed by another “artificially intelligent” system that looked at characteristics such as age and gender in addition to other factors that might contribute to the presence of specific diseases.

Although it is in the early stages of development, the device could identify each participant’s disease with 86 percent accuracy. While that percentage is not accurate enough to make the device a reliable diagnostic tool, it does show promise.

The idea that you can detect disease from simply smelling a person’s breath is not new. It was an ancient practice to smell other forms of bodily excrement to detect disease. In similar studies, it was thought that people who presented with breath that smelled like rotten apples suffered from diabetes and that people who presented with fishy-scented breath suffered from a form of liver disease.

Some of the diseases that can be diagnosed using the breathalyzer include lung cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. Others include different types of cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, two kinds of Parkinson’s disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia, and chronic kidney disease.

The clear benefits of testing for diseases in this noninvasive way are significant. The device could save lives, noting the presence of disease before a patient is symptomatic. And because taking a breathalyzer is seemingly painless, it might encourage patients to test for diseases earlier now that they can avoid what are often pretty painful diagnostic tests, as can be the case for diseases like cancer.

And while the device is portable in its current form, developers are hoping to make the device even more accessible by connecting it in some way to standard smart phones.

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#1

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/09/2017 10:29 AM

A good example is someone who has diabetes. Diabetics suffering from ketoacidosis, a complication of diabetes which produces a "fruity" breath smell and disorientation, have been mistakenly arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/09/2017 1:23 PM

Another example: If their breath about knocks you over, they probably need a trip to the dentist, a cleaning, and for heaven's sake, some dental floss.

I have heard similar discussions before, except this was mentioned in the context of dogs interacting with their owners, attempting to tell the owner something was wrong with them, only to learn much later of a grave condition. Small partners, those puppies.

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#3

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/09/2017 2:48 PM

And then we have Newt Gingivitis.

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#4

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/09/2017 3:49 PM

Time for SCOPE!

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#5

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/10/2017 11:06 AM

I wonder what transducer might have been used in the analyzer. I am no chemist, like James, but to analyze a variety of chemicals from one method like IR and AAS is somehow limited. But impressive, by the way.

Some people's breathe, even on the nostrils, also smells quite odd sometimes.

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#6

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/10/2017 12:25 PM

Love the growing journalistic trend of labelling anything that does even moderately-complex logic operations "artificially-intelligent." Please, people.

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#7
In reply to #6

Re: Life-Saving Breath

01/10/2017 1:52 PM

Yes, I too have noticed that. The true definition: the device must be able to learn and change its behavior.

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