‘Artificial nose’ identifies early-stage cancers in exhaled breath

A ‘nano artificial nose’ that mimics the human olfactory system to identify cancers in the breath has been developed at Technion — Israel Institute of Technology.

Developed by Prof Haick and collaborators including PhD student Meggie Hakim, the NA-NOSE detects volatile organic compounds in an individual’s breath using an array of cross-reactive sensors, and then identifies patterns in the molecules allowing it to differentiate between the breath of healthy people and lung cancer patients.

According to a statement, the NA-NOSE has been under research and development since the middle of 2007. The aim of the current study is to evaluate the role of exhaled breath as a potential non-invasive biomarker to distinguish between benign and cancerous conditions, which might be used prior to biopsy. The 74 participants all had ‘single pulmonary nodules’ that had been detected by imaging.

The NA-NOSE was 88 per cent accurate in distinguishing between benign and malignant nodules, the researchers report. It is further claimed that the sensitivity of the test was 86 per cent, correctly identifying 86 per cent of the malignant nodules that were present. Its specificity was 93 per cent, similarly correctly identifying 93 per cent of the benign nodules.

‘The ultimate goal of the NA-NOSE device is to identify the changes in the volatile biomarkers’ concentrations allowing for early diagnosis of cancer in early stages, ideally at the level of a single cell,’ said Hakim.

‘The NA-NOSE approach is totally different from conventional cancer diagnostics. It diagnoses cancer based on the change of the blood chemistry and metabolic activity, which is reflected in the chemical composition of the exhaled breath.

‘Our future aim is to develop a sensitive device so that only patients who test positive will require conventional, unpleasant and expensive invasive procedures, such as biopsy, to locate their tumour and they will go on to be treated in an early stage, when cure rates are much higher.’

The new technique for the early identification of cancer was presented at the Third European Lung Cancer Conference (ELCC) in Geneva.