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Diagnosing lung cancer through a simple exhale

Israeli researchers have developed a sensor made from gold nanoparticles that distinguishes between the breath of those with lung cancer from those without.

Dr. Hossam Haick developed a breath test that can identify lung cancer. The Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute

Breath might be tested to measure more than sobriety if researchers at the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute in Haifa, Israel, have anything to say. They've developed a sensor made from gold nanoparticles that is able to distinguish between the breath of those with lung cancer from those without.

The sensing technology, according to lead author Hossam Haick, does not require the exhalation to be pre-treated in any way; the resulting breath test is simple, affordable, and portable. (In existing tests, preconcentration of the biomarkers is required to improve detection.)

"We demonstrated that our device has a potential not only to distinguish lung cancer patients from healthy controls but also to identify different types of primary lung cancer," Haick told Medscape Oncology.

The findings, reported in Nature Nanotechnology, could help screen for and diagnose lung cancer so quickly and affordably that the sensor has the potential to save millions of lives a year, Haick estimates.

In patients with lung cancer, studies show that levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can range from 10 to 100 parts per billion, compared to the range of 1 to 20 parts per billion in healthy human breath. Researchers noted that there was "no overlap of the lung cancer and healthy patterns," even though there is small overlap in the range of VOCs.

Diagnosing lung cancer might be the first of many applications. "The potential exists for using the proposed technology to diagnose other conditions and diseases, which could mean additional cost reductions and enhanced possibilities to save lives," Haick says.