Breath of Hope for Easier Cancer Tests; Researchers Breathe New Life into Old Technique for Detecting Illness
Byline: Robin Turner
A BREATH test for diagnosing cancer and other diseases is being developed by researchers at a Welsh university.
The system works by analysing all the component chemicals and compounds that make up a patient's breath.
Swansea University scientists hope their revolutionary breath test will be able to detect cancers early, eliminating the need for invasive surgery.
Doctors have known since the Middle Ages the aroma of breath can hold a clue to what's wrong with a patient. For example, there is often a sweet smell of "pears" in patients with uncontrolled diabetes, a fishy odour to advanced liver disease, as well as a urine-like smell that comes in the breath when kidneys are failing.
Scientists have long suspected there are other, less obvious clues to disease in the breath, but until now have lacked the knowledge and equipment to use them.
Although there are reckoned to be more than 400 different breath chemicals that could be used, most are present in such small amounts - one part in a trillion in some cases - they have been difficult to pick up.
Now scientists at the Welsh Centre for Printing and Coating at Swansea University's School of Engineering are using sophisticated techniques to pick up the chemicals and analyse them.
The complex methods include gas chromatography (electronic recognition of particles suspended in a gas stream), mass spectrometry (identifying individual particles by their different atomic weights) and thermal desorption (using heat to separate particles from other compounds). The three methods can identify volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in breath.
Swansea University's Dr Masood Yousef said, "Studies have shown high concentrations of certain VOCs in breath can correlate with disease. …