Researchers have overcome a fundamental obstacle in developing breath-analysis technology to rapidly diagnose patients by detecting chemical compounds called “biomarkers” in a person’s respiration in real time.
The researchers demonstrated their approach is capable of rapidly detecting biomarkers in the parts per billion to parts per million range, at least 100 times better than previous breath-analysis technologies, said Carlos Martinez, an assistant professor of materials engineering at Purdue who is working with researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
“People have been working in this area for about 30 years but have not been able to detect low enough concentrations in real time,” he said. “We solved that problem with the materials we developed, and we are now focusing on how to be very specific, how to distinguish particular biomarkers.”
The technology works by detecting changes in electrical resistance or conductance as gases pass over sensors built on top of “microhotplates,” tiny heating devices on electronic chips. Detecting biomarkers provides a record of a patient’s health profile, indicating the possible presence of cancer and other diseases.
“We are talking about creating an inexpensive, rapid way of collecting diagnostic information about a patient,” Martinez said. “It might say, ‘there is a certain percentage that you are metabolizing a specific compound indicative of this type of cancer,’ and then additional, more complex tests could be conducted to confirm the diagnosis.”