Detecting Disease Through Your Breath

One of the major challenges in modern medicine is how to accurately detect disease when people are still feeling healthy. Researchers and doctors alike have long since wondered how to diagnose diseases such as cancer before it progresses too far.

Now, the medical community may find that answer in a new development out of Technion – Israel Institute of Technology called the Na-Nose.

The Na-Nose is a newly developed device that can analyze the chemical signature of exhaled gases to diagnose diseases with 86 percent accuracy. The science behind the device uses carbon nanotubes and gold particles to isolate volatile biomarkers in a patient’s breath.

Researchers then used a computer algorithm to recognize the biomarkers, creating a tool that can quickly and accurately detect diseases such as ovarian cancer or multiple sclerosis in early stages without any invasive procedures.

“It works in the same way we’d use dogs in order to detect specific compounds,” Hossam Haick, co-author of the study, told Smithsonian. “We bring something to the nose of a dog, and the dog will transfer that chemical mixture to an electrical signature and provide it to the brain, and then memorize it in specific regions of the brain … This is exactly what we do. We let it smell a given disease but instead of a nose we use chemical sensors, and instead of the brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent.”

By: Sameer Sonkusale, Tufts University


Image: Alonso Nichols, Tufts University, CC BY-ND

Doctors have various ways to assess your health. For example, they measure your heart rate and blood pressure to indirectly assess your heart function, or straightforwardly test a blood sample for iron content to diagnose anemia. But there are plenty of situations in which that sort of monitoring just isn’t possible.

To test the health of muscle and bone in contact with a hip replacement, for example, requires a complicated – and expensive – procedure. And if problems are found, it’s often too late to truly fix them. The same is true when dealing with deep wounds or internal incisions from surgery.

In my engineering lab at Tufts University, we asked ourselves whether we could make sensors that could be seamlessly embedded in body tissue or organs – and yet could communicate to monitors outside the body in real time. The first concern, of course, would be to make sure that the materials wouldn’t cause infection or an immune response from the body. The sensors would also need to match the mechanical properties of the body part they would be embedded in: soft for organs and stretchable for muscle. And, ideally, they would be relatively inexpensive to make in large quantities.


A research team, including ECS members Stephen Doorn and Erik H Hároz, has created flexible, wafer-scale films of highly aligned and closely packed carbon nanotubes thanks to a simple filtration process. In a discovery that was previously though impossible, the researchers found that in the right solution and under the right conditions, the tubes can assemble themselves by the millions into long rows.

(ICYMI: Get the freshman 101 on carbon nanotubes from nanocarbons expert Bruce Weisman.)

This development could help bring flexible electronics to actuality, especially with the special electronic properties of the nanotubes.

“Once we have centimeter-sized crystals consisting of single-chirality nanotubes, that’s it,” said Junichiro Kono, Rice University physicist leading the study. “That’s the holy grail for this field. For the last 20 years, people have been looking for this.”

The nanotubes can be tumor-targeted and have a central 'hollow' core that can be loaded with a therapeutic payload.Image: Jing Claussen (iThera Medical, Germany)

The nanotubes can be tumor-targeted and have a central ‘hollow’ core that can be loaded with a therapeutic payload.
Image: Jing Claussen (iThera Medical, Germany)

Gold nanotubes have multiple applications in fighting cancer, including internal nanoprobes for high-resolution imaging and drug delivery vehicles. With new research from the University of Leeds, we’re discovering that these gold nanotubes may also be able to give doctors the chance to treat cancer as soon as they spot it.

“Gold nanotubes – that is, gold nanoparticles with tubular structures that resemble tiny drinking straws – have the potential to enhance the efficacy of these conventional treatments by integrating diagnosis and therapy in one single system,” said Professor at the University of Leeds Institute for Biomedical and Clinical Science Sunjie Ye in a release.

The new study shows the first successful demonstration of biomedical use of gold nanotubes in a mouse model of human cancer. The researchers hope that these results will aid in the treatment of cancer and address the issue of high recurrence rates of tumors after surgical removal.


Scientists from Tohoku University in Japan have developed a new type of energy-efficient flat light source based on carbon nanotubes with very low power consumptions of around 0.1 Watt for every hour's operation -- about a hundred times lower than that of an LED.Credit: N. Shimoi/Tohoku University

Scientists have developed a new type of energy-efficient flat light source with a power consumption about a hundred times lower than that of an LED.
Credit: N. Shimoi/Tohoku University

Scientists all around the globe are constantly looking for a way to create the even-better-bulb of tomorrow. In order to do this, researchers are looking toward carbon electronics.

This from the American Institute of Physics:

Electronics based on carbon, especially carbon nanotubes (CNTs), are emerging as successors to silicon for making semiconductor materials, and they may enable a new generation of brighter, low-power, low-cost lighting devices that could challenge the dominance of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the future and help meet society’s ever-escalating demand for greener bulbs.

Read the full article here.

With this in mind, scientists from Tohoku University have developed a new type of energy-efficient flat light source with a very low power consumption that comes in around 0.1 Watt for every hour of operation. This is about one hundred times lower than that of an LED.


The core of the nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond's structure.Credit: John Badding Lab, Penn State University

The core of the nanothreads is a long, thin strand of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of a diamond’s structure.
Credit: John Badding Lab, Penn State University

A team of scientists have recently discovered how to produce ultra-thin “diamond nanothreads.” These nanothreads, which construct a structure more than 20,000 times smaller than average human hair, are expected to yield extraordinary properties. The new nanothreads will be stronger and stiffer than current nanotubes, and they will also be light in weight.

This means creating the potential for more fuel efficient vehicles, and even fictional-sounding endeavors – such as a “space elevator.”

This from Carnegie Science:

The team—led by John Badding, a chemistry professor at Penn State University and his student Thomas Fitzgibbons—used a specialized large volume high pressure device to compress benzene up to 200,000 atmospheres, at these enormous pressures, benzene spontaneously polymerizes into a long, thin strands of carbon atoms arranged just like the fundamental unit of diamond’s structure—hexagonal rings of carbon atoms bonded together, but in chains rather than the full three-dimensional diamond lattice.