A new device being developed by a team of scientists at Stony Brook University will soon be able to detect conditions ranging from diabetes, asthma and kidney problems to lung cancer by analyzing a single breath patients blow into it.
Called the Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer, the instrument is being developed as an inexpensive, early detection mechanism that people could use in the safety and comfort of their own homes. The device was made possible using ceramics nanotechnology.
What it does is use a fine mesh of nanowires to trap and detect biomarkers, chemicals whose presence in the human body has been associated with the development of certain disorders in past studies. Many diseases have known biomarkers, but there are some that do not.
The breathalyzer only has two lights at the top of its box. The green light indicates that the patient does not have any of the biomarkers that the instrument was built to detect, while a red light is meant to show that something is wrong, and that the individual would do well to get checked up by a doctor.
The SBU team is led by expert Perena Gouma, who holds an appointment as an associate professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering at the university. She says that most of the groundwork for this device has been completed.
This investigation was made possible by grant money provided by the US National Science Foundation
(NSF). Gouma says that the mesh of nanowires which constitutes the main active element of the breathalyzer is located on a chip at the core of the instrument.
“These nanowires enable the sensor to detect just a few molecules of the disease marker gas in a 'sea' of billions of molecules of other compounds that the breath consists of,” the leader of the team explains.
“There can be different types of nanowires, each with a tailored arrangement of metal and oxygen atoms along their configuration, so as to capture a particular compound,” Gouma adds. Some may be dedicated to catching ammonia, while others detect acetone or nitric oxide.
“Each of these biomarkers signal a specific disease or metabolic malfunction so a distinct diagnostic breathalyzer can be designed,” she goes on to say. When the device is refined further, it will be able to discover viral infections as well, caused by microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli or anthrax.