Simple breath test could detect cancer and other deadly diseases

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Ancient Greek physicians figured that our breath was a strong health indicator, but researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology have proven just how true that is. They have developed a portable device that screens breath samples to provide a diagnosis for 17 diseases.

Studies showed the machine, the size of a mobile phone, was 86 percent accurate in identifying conditions such as lung, stomach and prostate cancers, multiple sclerosis, kidney disease and hypertension.


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The breakthrough could lead to some of the world’s most deadly diseases being caught many years before they take grip, and could significantly reduce the need for painful, risky and invasive biopsies and time-consuming medical examinations.

Professor Hossam Haick of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, said: “Many diseases start to emerge several years before someone sees the effects. The only way to know is through repeat examinations. This breath test could afford people time and save millions of lives.” 

The Na-Nose, which looks and works like a police breathalyser, spots the unique odour emitted by cancer cells and senses the presence of both benign and malignant tumours more quickly, efficiently and cheaply than current diagnostic tools. 

Prof. Haick and a team of international researchers collected 2,808 breath samples from 1,404 volunteers in Israel, France, the US, Latvia and China between 2011 and 2014. All were either healthy or had one of 17 cancerous, inflammatory and neurological diseases.

They included 591 healthy patients and 813 who had either lung, colon, head and neck, ovarian, bladder, prostate, kidney or gastric cancer.

Others were suffering from Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, idiopathic and atypical Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, pre-eclampsia and chronic kidney disease.

Researchers found that each disease produces a repeatable and unique “breathprint” based on patterns of exhaled compounds assessed by the machine. Further analysis revealed 13 exhaled volatile organic compounds are associated with various diseases and their composition differs from one to another.

Experts said the machine, which has taken 10 years to make, could be used in hospitals and GP surgeries in less than five years.


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