33MD for March 12, 2009

POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009 - 7:58pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 11:57pm

It’s the latest high-tech way of battling cancer. A new “mechanical nose” can sniff a person’s breath and tell with uncanny accuracy whether that person has cancer. The device is apparently accurate 92% of the time, so sensitive it can spot even a few cancer cells before a tumor actually develops.

The project began in Israel. Dr. Hossam Haick was part of the groundbreaking research team. Another member of that team is working at the University of Colorado Cancer Center. Oncologist Dr. Nir Peled says, “But here you can detect even few cells. We can detect probably a trillion.”

Dr. Nir Peled demonstrates how incredibly easy the test is. “You just take this bag, you connect it to this device, just breathe in, and breathe out.” That’s all. You breathe into the bag. When that air is tested, even the tiniest particles of bad stuff light up like a spotlight. “It’s 700 milliliters that can make everything different.”

The cancer-sniffing mechanical nose has its roots in some fascinating studies on dogs that were able to sniff out cancer. The device, developed by the Israeli team is vastly more accurate, operating on what’s called the nanoscale, tiny particles 1/10,000 the width of a human hair, that are built into little machines that can spot those disease markers. “We can differentiate between healthy patients, COPD patients, breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer.”

Experts say patients may be able to use this breath test within four years.