This Breathalyzer Can Diagnose 17 Diseases With A Single Breath

It could be "the key to saving lives."

According to a 2010 study by the World Health Organization, two of the biggest contributing factors to the scarcity of life-saving medical devices in developing countries are affordability and the lack of resources needed to support those devices. This scarcity, in turn, holds back preventative care efforts as well as overarching work to improve overall public health.

Imagine, then, the impact on public health if doctors in developing countries had access to a single device that could diagnose 17 diseases. Imagine if this device needed very little run-time, and only a single breath to diagnose those diseases.

If that device sounds promising to you, we have good news. An international team of 56 researchers recently published an article in ACS Nano, a monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal by the American Chemical Society, announcing their development of a breathalyzer that leverages artificial intelligence to diagnose 17 distinct diseases, including lung cancer, ovarian cancer, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis, and chronic kidney disease. 


An alcohol-detecting breathalyzer in Auckland, New Zealand. Could this be the future of disease diagnosis? Shutterstock /  ChameleonsEye.

The researchers' prototype boasts an 86 percent accuracy rate. According to a press release, to diagnose patients, the breathalyzer first analyzes a sample of breath using an array of nanoscale sensors that detect microscopic volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) associated with the disease. Then, as reported by LiveScience, the breathalyzer compares the information it collects to a database of diseases and their VOC concentration patterns.

The strategy is successful, the researchers wrote in the study, because "each disease has its own unique breath print."

Before shipping the breathalyzer out to doctors across the world, the researchers need to continue developing their prototype and increase accuracy. But, if all goes as planned, its release could have a serious impact.

As revealed in a video discussing their project, above, the research team imagines a future where their breathalyzer's technology can be integrated with a smartphone. 

Says research team member Dr. Nisreen Shehada:

"I am hoping that more people will be tested and that way we can diagnose cancer at much earlier stages.... that's the key to saving lives."

Cover image via Shutterstock.


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.