This Breathalyzer Could Be Used to Detect Diseases, Cancer


The technology of breathalyzers has progressed, from detecting the amounts of alcohol in someone’s blood, to now — diagnosing illness.

Researchers led by the Israel Institute of Technology developed a breath test that uses gold nanoparticles that react to 13 different chemicals our bodies exhale when we become sick.

Credit: Breathtec Biomedical, Inc.

The device, called Breathtec, is now licensed and should be available for doctors to use in five years. The maker say a breath test would cost as little $29 and claims it can diagnosis a variety of diseases and cancers.

“We found that just as we each have a unique fingerprint, each of the diseases we studied has a unique breathprint, a ‘signature’ of chemical components,” said Professor and lead study author Hossam Haick. “We have a device which can discriminate between them, which is elegant and affordable. Patients who might be frightened to have a procedure like a colonoscopy will not be afraid of a breath test, and it could be used to screen healthy people.”

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In the study, scientists used a 3D-printed box that had tiny particles of gold within it that change resistance depending upon the chemicals in the breath.

“‘The inspiration for this device was a dog’s nose because dogs can be trained to recognize the scent of a disease in someone’s breath and distinguish it from a healthy person,” said Professor Haick. “Instead of the nose, we have chemical sensors, and instead of the dog’s brain we have a computer algorithm, so we can communicate more about a disease than a dog sniffing it out. The detection rate of close to 90 percent is the same.”

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Over three years, the breath of 1,400 patients was tested in five different countries, which included the United States and Israel. The breath test had an 86 percent accuracy rate when identifying diseases including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure, as well as ovarian, kidney and prostate cancers, among others.

Other breath analyzers have been developed, but the makers of Breathtec say it’s the first device that can detect and distinguish between diseases when an individual has more than one illness.