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Handheld breath monitor could detect diseases

Researchers develop inexpensive sensor nanotechnology that could enable people to monitor and instantly detect disease by exhaling onto a handheld device.

A new nanomedicine device designed to monitor signaling gas in exhaled breath could help people monitor their own known diseases, as well as instantly detect new ones, according to research out of Stony Brook University.

A Stony Brook University researcher demonstrates the new nanosensor device. Stony Brook University

"This is a single breath analysis diagnostic tool for monitoring disease or metabolic functions that can be used to check cholesterol levels, diabetes, and even lung cancer," says lead researcher Perena Gouma, whose work appears in the October 2010 issue of Sensor Letters. "Lung cancer is a silent killer that can only be detected when it's progressed vastly--but in the breath, markers can be identified that are an early signal."

The best-known breath-analyzing device is, of course, the Breathalyzer. But a single exhale--which contains several hundred compounds, some of which are known (and often early) indicators of disease--can tell us much more about the state of our health than how much we've had to drink.

The breakthrough in this new sensor nanotechnology, Gouma says, is that it has become sensitive enough to target specific gases or families of gases. Her latest research explores the detection of acetone, a gas important to monitoring diabetes. Presently, blood is required for this level of monitoring, but this new process will enable individuals to test themselves by simply breathing once into the device.

These findings come on the heels of Gouma's work on ammonia detection in exhaled breath, which she published in IEEE in January 2010; in that same issue, a team out of the University of Florida unveiled a sensor that can detect glucose in the breath and then wirelessly transmit the data.

Gouma's sensor is now in preclinical trials for use with diabetes patients.