Researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology are expressing enthusiasm for what appears to be a breakthrough in disease detection. A way has been discovered to test for 17 different diseases using a single breath from a patient. Microscopic compounds in the breath, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be analyzed to detect each condition. While other bodily substances, such as blood, contain VOCs, using exhaled breath is the cheapest, easiest and least invasive method to test for the compounds.
The researchers wrote in the study that “each disease has its own unique breathprint.” Research lead Prof. Hossam Haick commented, “These odor signatures are what enables us to identify the diseases using the technology that we developed.” Scientists have developed experimental breath analyzers before, but most of those devices only focused on a single type of disease.
The diseases and health conditions that can be detected fall into three broad categories: cancerous, inflammatory and neurological. Roughly 1,400 people from China, Israel, France, Latvia and the United States participated in the research. The researchers administered the breathalyzer to 813 people who were diagnosed with one of the 17 diseases, as well as 591 controls. The researchers did not know which condition the participants had.
The researchers used artificial intelligence to analyze the VOCs in each breath and search for diseases showing the same VOC concentration patterns in a database. The system then delivered a diagnosis. According to the researchers, the device could identify each person’s disease with 86 percent accuracy.
The researchers verified the results with another method that measured the VOCs in each sample. Haick said that the device “can even be used to identify people who aren’t even sick yet, but have a higher risk for certain health conditions.” The diseases that can be detected by the newfangled breathalyzer include lung cancer, Parkinson’s disease, pulmonary hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis.
The researchers needed only 13 of the hundreds of known VOCs in exhaled breath to distinguish among the 17 different diseases. However, some of the VOC’s are linked to multiple disorders. Because of this, the researchers wrote, “These results support our finding that no single VOC can discriminate between different diseases.”