Breathe Easier: Exhaled Chemicals May Help Diagnose Diseases

How’s your breath? You may worry about last night’s pesto pasta or that garlic pizza, but doctors have other concerns, more serious than the onion from your burger–medical concerns. They may soon check exhaled breath for disease symptoms. It would be medical diagnosis through breath.

Like fingerprints, each person has a unique molecular “breathprint,” a fingerprint of exhaled breath, and Zurich researchers propose using mass spectrometers to examine its chemical composition for diagnosing illnesses, with lung diseases as their first target. Each person has a characteristic "breathprint." So the researchers hope to find a consistent pattern among patients with a certain lung disease, with a goal to eventually expand that knowledge to other diseases. Scientists are now working on the next step toward putting this diagnostic tool into practice: finding out which breath components indicate what illness.

Breath exams would offer advantages over urine and blood analysis, with results available seconds after obtaining a sample, and, of course, the procedure is noninvasive (no needles–hooray!). Another benefit the researchers propose is, with regular breath exams, healthy patients could receive early warning for risk of a specific disease. All you'll have to do is breathe, and you'll (poof!) be diagnosed.

Leave a Comment