A new generation of powerful breath tests detect diseases

The New York Times tells us about a new generation of "breathalyzers" that will be able to detect markers for diseases through puffs of exhaled air. "There are clear signatures in the breath for liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease" and diseases of the lungs, Dr. Raed Dweik, director of the pulmonary vascular program at the Cleveland Clinic, tells the Times. "My sense is that breath analysis is the future of medical testing, complementing many of the blood and imaging steps we do today."

The article mentions Menssana Research of Fort Lee, NJ, which is working on a system called Breathlink to quickly identify pulmonary tuberculosis and other diseases. It's a desktop unit that works wherever there is an Internet connection. According to CEO Michael Phillips, Breathlink's analyzers can detect compounds in concentrations of parts per trillion. That's a billion times more sensitive than the breath analyzers used by police to detect alcohol concentrations.

Currently, the detection of a compound in the breath--nitric oxide--is already widely used for asthma patients, Dutch pediatric specialist Marielle W. H. Pijnenburg tells the NYT. Nitric oxide is a small molecule that reflects allergic inflammation in the lungs. But, she adds, nitric oxide detectors are expensive and not useful in all asthma patients. In the future, asthma breath devices will measure other molecules, as well. One goal is to create an easy-to-use device for pediatric asthma patients that will detect five common inflammatory markers of the disease. "We want a hand-held device that is convenient for children to hold and use, so that they can monitor their condition," Frederick A. Dombrose, president of the Hartwell Foundation in Memphis, tells the Times.

- read the NYT story