Breathe to Live

Purdue researchers develop breathalyzer that can detect cancer, disease biomarkers in real time

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers at Purdue University have helped develop a breath-analysis technology that detects chemical compounds that may possibly help diagnose cancer and other diseases.

Biomarkers in a person's respiration are detected when gases from breath pass over sensors built on top of miniscule heating devices. Researchers have been working in this area for some 30 years, but biomarker concentrations have been to low to detect in real time -- until now.

Carlos Martinez, an assistant professor of materials engineering at Purdue, said he and cohorts have solved the real-time problem and are now focused on how to specify and distinguish particular biomarkers.

The technology makes for a rapid, inexpensive means of capturing diagnostic information. For example, the breathalyzer might find a certain percentage of a metabolized compound that may be indicative of certain forms of cancer. More complex and thorough tests would have to be completed to confirm any diagnosis, however.

Researchers detected acetone, a biomarker for diabetes, in a demonstration.

Such breathalyzers are years from being available on the market because precise standards have not yet been set. Martinez said that his team's research, conducted as it was in real time, marks "a big step in the right direction," however.

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Review Date: 
December 29, 2010
Last Updated:
December 29, 2010