Diagnosing diseases with a deep breath

Doctors developing breath test to detect liver, kidney, heart disease

Published On: Oct 11 2012 09:07:55 PM EDT   Updated On: Oct 12 2012 06:20:00 AM EDT

Each person breathes in and out about 14 times a minute. That adds up to 21,000 breaths a day, 10½ million breaths a year. Each one says a lot about you, and not just if you need a mint. This explains how our breath could revolutionize disease diagnosis.

Failing a particular breath test could mean jail. Failing this one could mean cancer.

Doctors at Cleveland Clinic are working on a breath test that can detect liver, kidney and heart disease.

"The way I look at breath testing, it’s the new frontier of medical testing," said Raed A. Dwelk, M.D., professor of medicine, director of the Pulmonary Vascular Program at the Cleveland Clinic.

That’s because a lot of things, good or bad, make their way from your tissues to your blood and go through your lungs.

"Our breath works kind of like an exhaust system for the body. Depending on how the different body parts are working, the chemicals in the breath might be different," said Peter Mazzone, M.D., a lung specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.

Hi-tech sensors can detect differences up to a part per billion in a person’s chemistry.

"To give you a concept, if you have baseball field filled with white ping pong balls, and only one red one. That’s a part per billion. That’s how sensitive these devices are," Dwelk said.

Studies show the breath test to be 80% accurate in not only detecting lung cancer, but also the type, the stage, and how aggressive the cancer is.

Doctors hope the breath test will one day detect all types of cancer.

"That’s the holy grail of breath testing," Dwelk said.

Proving medicine’s next big thing could be just a breath away.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic hope to have this in general practitioners’ offices within five years. Soon after, they hope to develop a test that would work through your smart phone.

Additional Information On Breath Test:

Doctors at Cleveland Clinic are working on a breath test that can detect liver disease, kidney disease, and heart disease, among other things. When a person breathes into the "electronic nose" machine, it activates a sensor and changes its color based on chemicals in the breath.

A miniature camera inside the machine takes pictures of the sensor and sends them to a computer, which stores the images and analyzes color changes to determine the type of cells present and diagnose patients while they’re still in the office.

A study in which breath samples were taken from 229 patients at the Clinic (92 with untreated lung cancer, the rest cancer-free but with a history of smoking) was 81 percent accurate for detecting lung cancer. The study also showed accuracy of between 83 percent and 89 percent for the kind of lung cancer a patient has and about 79 percent accuracy in distinguishing early-stage cancer from late stage, according to Metabolomx. (Source: Cleveland Clinic)