Health scientists are continually researching new kinds of technology and techniques to find the links between bodily emissions such as our breath and the diseases that may lurk undetected beneath our skin.
Previous research has indicated lung cancer may be detectable by breath analysis, and now a new study published by researchers at the University of Adelaide in South Australia suggests that a special kind of laser breathalyser could quickly and non-invasively detect a wide range of diseases, infections, and cancers in the very near future by analysing the molecules in the breath we exhale.
“Rather than sniffing out a variety of smells as a dog would, the laser system uses light to ‘sense’ the range of molecules that are present in the sample,” said James Anstie, one of the authors of the study, in a press release. “Those molecules are by-products of metabolic processes in the body and their levels change when things go wrong.”
Detailed in the journal Optics Express, Antsie and his colleagues have developed a laser-based optical spectroscopy technique that can detect the light-absorption patterns of different kinds of molecules.
Their laser directs an ‘optical frequency comb’ through a sample of gas, with up to a million different frequencies of light effectively combing exhaled breath in order to find which molecules are present. As every kind of molecular formation absorbs light in a slightly different way, the laser can quickly read the unique ‘molecular footprint’ of any suspect molecules that may be indicative of current health concerns - and it could even prove to be an important preventative tool for physicians.
“There have been good studies undertaken around the world which show that diseases like lung and oesophageal cancer, asthma and diabetes can be detected in this way, even before external symptoms are showing,” says Antsie. “The next step is to work out how to accurately sample and interpret the levels which will naturally vary from person to person.”
The team believes a working prototype is only two to three years away, with a commercial release available by the end of the decade. We’re looking forward to seeing the developments!