A new, highly sensitive breath test promises to provide doctors with a new diagnostic tool to help spot several diseases and to identify if a patient is rejecting an organ transplant.
If this test is adopted it could make determining diseases easier and provide an alternative to more costly or complicated diagnostic tests.
The test was developed by Dr. Michael Phillips who anticipates it will soon be able to help detect a variety of diseases including lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney disease, and diabetes.
The test may also be able to identify the signals of transplant rejection thereby reducing the number of biopsies these patients must undergo.
Phillips is currently seeking to license a company to produce and market his Heartsbreath test to doctors and hospitals.
He explained that analyzing breath, especially for diabetic patients, is an ancient practice and that his machinery, which can identify 200 compounds, is about billion times stronger at sensing a substance than the police Breathalyzer that measures alcohol level.
According to Phillips, the technology works because every illness generates an abundance of free radicals which oxidize cell membranes and release distinct compounds. Thus, every one has its own identifiable "fingerprint."
The software Phillips has designed will be able to isolate this fingerprint using a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, two common pieces of analytical laboratory equipment.
During the test the patient puts on a nose clip and breathes into a tube for two minutes. The sample is captured in a 4-inch steel tube the width of a pencil, which is stuffed with absorbent material. The contents, along with those of another tube that has collected air from around the patient, are compared by the chromatograph and spectrometer.
The Heartsbreath test was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 after federally sponsored clinical trials. It is a less invasive procedure for the 2,000 patients a year who have heart transplants. These patients often require as many as 20 biopsies, sometimes costing as much as $2,500, in the first year after surgery.
Along with traditional blood tests and other diagnostic tools, Heartsbreath could become a reliable means of identifying signs of organ rejection in these individuals.