When most people hear the word breathalyzer, they think of DUIs. But the breathalyzer could be the new cutting edge of medical diagnosis, and do everything from prevent heart attacks, to catch cancer super-early when it’s much easier to treat. Organic chemist Dr. Renato Zenobi says that every person has a unique “breathprint,” and analyzing the air we exhale can allow doctors to catch serious diseases much earlier. Already, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have developed a breath test for heart failure and kidney disease. And breath tests are in the works to help diagnose tuberculosis and cancer.
Surprisingly enough, the idea of using breath to diagnose disease isn’t new. Before the development of blood tests and MRIs, doctors routinely diagnosed illnesses like diabetes and liver failure by the smell of their patients’ breath. And some hospitals now use the sensitive noses of specially trained dogs to sniff out cancer and seizures. But the breath fingerprint breakthroughs are possible because of new sensors that can accurately measure trace amounts of the hundreds of chemicals, gasses and compounds we exhale.
Another plus: The results of a breath fingerprint test will be available within seconds, instead of hours or days for urine and blood samples. The tests aren’t available quite yet, but they should be popping up at hospitals and doctors offices in the near future.