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New Breathalyzer Technology Detects Cancer, Asthma

Researchers are working to develop ways to test for various diseases simply by having patients breathe into a machine, according to an article published in the online edition of Optics Express."If you go to the medical literature you will see tons of studies that correlate certain diseases with particular molecules found in the breath," said researcher Jun Ye. "One common example is nitrous oxide, which is associated with asthma." Ye and colleagues have successfully created a device that can analyze the millions of molecules contained in a single human breath. They believe the machine can easily be adapted to detect for a variety of lung-diseases as well."It's very non-invasive," Ye said. "There's nothing to be scared of. No blood test, just a breath test." The machine is analyzes the content of a breath by bouncing lasers back and forth between two curved mirrors. These lasers excite the air, causing each molecule to give off a unique light signature. These signatures are then analyzed to determine the chemical composition of the air.This composition can provide important medical clues. In preliminary tests, for example, the breath of a smoker was found to contain five times the carbon monoxide concentration of other participants."If you have asthma, your breath will have nitrous oxide, but nitrous oxide does not necessarily mean you have asthma," said Ye. "But if you see several different molecules all at once, and they are associated with asthma, then you have found a real fingerprint of a certain disease." Ye and his colleagues are working to make the machine even more sensitive, in the hopes that it can one day be used to identify even diseases that do not involve the lungs."Once it's mass produced, the cost could be quite low," Ye said. "It could be put into every doctor's clinic so people could walk in and do painless breath tests and then walk away. They would get results in a day or so."
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