By employing recent developments in nanotechnology, however, researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology have overcome the need to pre-treat exhaled breath for analysis.
The new work appears in the current issue of Nature Nanotechnology. Hossam Haick, the principal researcher, and his team collected breath samples from 56 healthy volunteers and 40 people who had been diagnosed with lung cancer, but have not received treatment yet. They analyzed the samples and identified 33 biomarkers, chemicals that were present at significantly distinct levels in the lung cancer patients.
The team devised a sensor system made from nine chemiresistors that could respond to the biomarkers by altering their electrical properties. The chemiresistors were assembled from gold nanoparticles that are 5nm in diameter and functionalized with different organic compounds that allowed them to sense the biomarkers.
When the researchers exposed the sensors to untreated breath samples, they obtained readings that clearly distinguished between the exhalations of healthy patients and those with lung cancer. Regardless of the humidity of the breath, the gender of its source, or their smoking habits, the sensors were able to detect the lung cancer biomarkers. The sensors were also capable of working with a wide range of concentrations, and the process was reversible, meaning the nanoparticles can be reused.
The researchers point out that they need to test their sensors on "a wider population of volunteers to thoroughly probe the influence of diet, alcohol consumption, metabolic state, and genetics.” Those experiments are already underway.
Isn't human ingenuity brilliant?