New breathalyzer finds the “breathprint” of 17 diseases


    Soon doctors could be using a newly developed breathalyzer to check patients for 17 diseases using only your breath. Researchers have discovered a way to detect diseases by analyzing the volatile organic compounds (VOC) in your breath. The researchers were able to achieve 86% accuracy in their blind study of 1,404 participants. In the study, 813 people were diagnosed with one of the 17 diseases below and 591 people were in the control group.

    Currently the researchers are able to detect chronic kidney failure, idiopathic Parkinson’s disease, atypical Parkinsonism, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia in pregnant women, head and neck cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, prostate cancer, gastric cancer, and ovarian cancer.

    During the analysis of the few hundred VOCs that are present in our breath, the researchers found that it only required measuring the compositions of 13 VOCs to determine the “breathprint” of the different diseases. The specific VOCs used in the diagnosis were independently verified by using gas chromatography linked with mass spectrometry. The researchers also noted that the presence of one disease would not screen out the other diseases from being detected.

    Exhale Please

    The breathalyzer is made up of two nanotubes. The first uses an “artificially intelligent nanoarray based on molecularly modified gold nanoparticles” and the second nanotube has “a random network of single-walled carbon”.

    Once the breathalyzer has the 13 VOCs it then searches its database of known patterns. As you would expect with any “artificially intelligent nanoarray”, the database “needs to be increasingly trained using known clinical samples to build up a consistent and reliable database”.

    Chart of demographics for participants in study
    Nakhleh, M.K. et al. ACS Nano (2016)

    Not Quite Ready Yet

    If the breathalyzer is used by doctors in the future, it would be an “affordable, easy-to-use, inexpensive, and [sic] miniaturized tools for personalized screening, diagnosis, and follow-up of a range of diseases.”


    John Niedbala
    John Niedbala is the Editor-in-Chief and writer for Fanvive. When he's not working, you'll likely find him on the tennis court or trying a new local restaurant.