Diagnoses of more than a dozen diseases are just an exhalation away with a futuristic breathalyzer being developed by scientists.
A new study on the device has found that by simply having patients breathe into it, doctors can diagnose 17 different diseases, including lung cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
In the study, researchers asked roughly 1,400 people from five different countries to breathe into the device, which managed to identify each person’s disease with 86 percent accuracy.
“Each disease has its own unique breathprint,” wrote the researchers.
The device works by analyzing microscopic compounds – known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – to determine what ails its users.
While testing for VOCs isn’t exactly a brand new approach (physicians long ago learned that smelling a person’s bodily emissions could aid in the diagnosing process, which must have been a really fun study), the researchers discovered that analyzing breath is the cheapest, easiest and least invasive method to test the compounds.
While there are hundreds of known VOCs in exhaled breath, each VOC can be linked to a handful of conditions. The VOC nonanal, for example, is tied to disorders like ovarian cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and breast cancer, while the VOC isoprene is linked to chronic liver disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
"These results support our finding that no single VOC can discriminate between different diseases," the researchers wrote.
The researchers administered the breathalyzer to 813 people who had one of the 17 diseases, along with 591 controls. They then tallied up the VOCs in each exhalation and searched a database for diseases showing the same VOC concentration patterns to make a diagnosis.
The researchers said the study was an encouraging development for the breathalyzer, which won’t be ready for the market until it’s undergone more testing. If the device ever becomes available to doctors, however, researchers say it could be an "affordable, easy-to-use, inexpensive and miniaturized [tool] for personalized screening, diagnosis and follow-up."
The full study can be viewed online in the journal ACS Nano.