We know that exhaled breath contains biomarkers that point to presence of existing disease, including cancer, but their detection is challenging without bulky and expensive equipment. Building specialized devices that detect volatile organic compounds linked to disease requires large sensor arrays, a limitation that has made them currently impractical. Now researchers at Technion−Israel Institute of Technology and Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, Israel have developed tiny flexible sensors that are each able to replicate the work of many. In a study testing the breath of 43 volunteers that included 17 ovarian cancer patients, their sensors achieved an 82% accuracy of detection.
The sensors are flexible and are made of gold nanoparticles that have molecules onto which volatile organic compounds (VOCs) attach to. When captured, the different VOCs bend the sensors at different angles depending on their nature and provide more information than simply whether they’re there or not.
The researchers believe this technology can be applied to other cancers and different diseases, leading to cheap and easy to use diagnostic devices that require only a patient breath to work.