Beyond the Breathalyzer: Seeking Telltale Signs of Disease

PEOPLE who are worried about bad breath often reach for a toothbrush, a Tic Tac or an Altoid.

“My sense is that breath analysis is the future of medical testing,” says Dr. Raed Dweik, holding a breath sensor he is developing.

But in the future, personal breath monitoring may include far more than breath fresheners.

Scientists are building sophisticated electronic and chemical sniffers that examine the puffs of exhaled air for telltale signs of cancer, tuberculosis,asthma and other maladies, as well as for radiation exposure.

“There are clear signatures in the breath for liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease” and diseases of the lungs, said Dr. Raed Dweik, director of the pulmonary vascular program at the Cleveland Clinic, who studies breath analysis. “My sense is that breath analysis is the future of medical testing, complementing many of the blood and imaging steps we do today.”

“Breath is a rich matrix that can reflect our state of health or disease,” Dr. Dweik said. In fact, he observed, breath is so rich in chemical compounds that fully understanding it has proved challenging. Each exhalation contains gases like carbon dioxide, of course, but also the volatile remains of recent snacks, medicines and even compounds inhaled from things like carpeting, upholstery or various kinds of air pollution.


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Categories: Science, Technology

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