How a Smartphone Breath Test Could Reveal Potential Diseases


Imagine being able to detect and diagnose diseases with a simple click of a button. That’s exactly what scientist Dr Noushin Nasiri from the University of Technology in Sydney is trying to achieve. Taking inspiration from animals such as dogs, whose smell sensors are far more developed than humans, Dr Nasiri is attempting to create a breathalyser sensor that can detect biomarkers of common diseases that present through human breath.

According to Dr Nasiri “any change that happens in your body produces a biomarker, and that biomarker, because it has a high vapour pressure finds a way to come out of your body through your urine, sweat, tears, saliva or through your breath”.

The successful development of this small breathalyser sensor would mean that invasive methods such as blood tests could be avoided in the initial diagnostic stages, with Dr Nasiri’s initial goal being to develop a product that can detect up to 10 diseases in one breath. The results would then be delivered through an app on your smart phone.

So how does the sensor work?

Modelled on current breathalysers, the device uses nanotechnology to create a sensor that is layered with a chemical material that is reactive to unique biomarkers. Different biomarkers signal different diseases, for example high acetone is a biomarker for diabetes.

The nanotechnology used enables the sensor to be supersensitive to nanoparticles in human breath, with the sensor then being able to calculate the concentration of that biomarker to detect the presence of disease.

What does this mean for individuals with diseases?

Dr Nasari explains that with the technology individuals will be able to detect disease in its early stages before it enters the blood stream or, in the case of cancer, spreads enough to be detected by an MRI.

“When you have lung cancer, it is usually found at stage 4, and you might only have about 10 per cent [chance] of recovering, sometimes 6 per cent. But if the earliest time I can find the disease is in your breath, then you have an 80 per cent [chance] of recovery.”

While Dr Nasari’s smartphone breathalyser is at least three years away from hitting the market, the health and medical industry has already started to embrace technology and apps in disease management. Read more in our blog‚Äč.

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