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Doctors Want Your 'Breathprint' -- But Why?

Breath could someday be used to diagnose diseases in a similar method to how a breathalyzer test evaluates blood-alcohol level. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

It might not sound pleasant -- someone checking your "breathprint" -- but it is actually a technique that could potentially make disease or illness diagnosis far less intrusive than taking blood samples or other methods.

Researchers at ETH Zurich and at the University Hospital Zurich are striving to identify chemical compounds in a person's breath that might someday allow them to gauge health, a similar but more precise concept to dogs being able to smell the difference of patients with cancer.

Using mass spectrometry in a small study of 11 participants, the hospital researchers were able to identify individual "breathprints."

The breathprint remained stable for an 11 day period, showing that it could adequately be used to notice variations in the future.

Researchers are continuing to identify specific compounds that are normal in breathprint but will also be working to identify patterns that would indicate diseases.

"If we find a consistent pattern in patients with a given lung disease, we can develop a diagnostic tool", Pablo Martinez-Lozano Sinues, a senior scientist in research led by Renato Zenobi, said in a statement. They will be focusing on lung disease identification first.

Compared to more mainstream diagnostic techniques, like taking a blood or a urine sample, the ETH researchers believe this method would be faster and non-invasive. It could also be done regularly to monitor health at a lower cost.

"Our goal is to develop breath analysis to the point where it becomes competitive with the established analysis of blood and urine", says Malcolm Kohler, professor at the University Hospital Zurich, said in a statement.

For the idea to be successful, research would also have to develop more sensitive detection capabilities for small, portable mass spectrometers. At the moment, machines sensitive enough to detect the appropriate compounds are large.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

(H/T: Popular Science, Science Daily)

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