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Demonstration of mobile breath analysis using a portable sensing module. (a) Low-power sensing of a simulated biomarker using microelectromechanical system sensor arrays. (b) Pattern recognition of hydrogen sulphide, acetone and toluene using principle component analysis. (Image: Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology)
0 Comments Aug 18, 2017 | News Asia Pacific

Mobile breath analysis device promising for early disease diagnosis

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SEOUL, South Korea: Breath pattern recognition was once thought of as a futuristic diagnostic platform. Research in this area has been gaining much attention because breath analysis is a non-invasive and low-cost method. Among the most critical challenges in this regard is the development of sufficiently sensitive sensors. Korean scientists have now developed high-sensitivity sensors to enable early monitoring of various diseases based on biomarker gases in breath.

The research group, led by Dr Il-Doo Kim in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, has developed highly sensitive and selective chemiresistive sensors that can potentially diagnose specific diseases by analysing exhaled breath gases. The sensors were developed by combining hollow protein-templated nanocatalysts with electrospun metal oxide nanostructures, which have large and highly porous surface areas and thus achieve high sensitivity.

Human breath consists of diverse components, including water vapour, hydrogen, acetone, toluene, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide, with greater or lesser amounts exhaled in the case of illness. Some of these are closely associated with diseases such as asthma, lung cancer, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, and halitosis.

Breath analysis starts with capturing exhaled breath in a Tedlar bag and subsequently injecting the captured breath gases into a miniaturised sensor system, similar to an alcohol detector. It is possible to analyse exhaled breath very rapidly with a simple analysing process. Breath analysis can detect trace changes in exhaled breath components, contributing to early diagnosis of disease. However, gases in the breath occur at very low levels, from 1 ppb to 1 ppm, and so extremely sensitive sensors are needed for accuracy. In particular, it has been a challenge for chemiresistive chemical sensors to selectively detect specific biomarkers.

Conventionally, platinum and palladium are used in developing the catalysts; however, the sensitivity is insufficient. The sensors in the current study were specially optimised for selective detection of specific biomarkers. Their performance was approximately three to four times better than that of platinum and palladium catalyst-loaded nanofibre sensors. In particular, their sensitivity to acetone and hydrogen sulphide was the highest reported in literature.

“New types of heterogeneous nanocatalysts were synthesised using protein templates with sizes around 2 nm and functionalised on various metal oxide nanofiber sensing layers. The established sensing libraries can detect biomarker species with high sensitivity and selectivity. The new and innovative breath gas analysis platform will be very helpful for reducing medical expenditures and continuous monitoring of physical conditions,” said Kim.

The study, titled “Innovative nanosensor for disease diagnosis”, was published in the July issue of the Accounts of Chemical Research journal.

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