'Breathprints' could be diagnostic tool

April 4, 2013 at 4:01 PM

ZURICH, Switzerland, April 4 (UPI) -- Exhaled breath carries chemical "breathprints" unique to each individual, a finding that may bring new medical diagnostic techniques, Swiss scientists say.

Researchers at ETH Zurich and at the University Hospital Zurich say modern high-resolution analytical methods that can provide real-time information on the chemical composition of exhaled breath could diagnose infectious and metabolic diseases, provide warnings of cancer and organ failure, and check dosage levels of medication.

They report they've developed an instrument-based version of a principle long known in traditional Chinese medicine, where doctors draw conclusions about the health state of a patient based on the smell of the exhaled breath.

The system will be able to detect specific compounds, which are present in breath at minute concentrations, for medical diagnosis, they said.

Although the potential usefulness of analyzing breath for medical diagnosis has been known, it is rarely practiced, researchers said.

"This might be due to the fact that existing methods for breath analysis are either rather slow, or are limited to a small number of compounds that they can detect," Pablo Martinez-Lozano Sinues, a senior scientist at ETH Zurich, said.

Compared to diagnostic analysis of blood or urine, a significant advantage of the breath technique is the exhaled "breathprint" is available within seconds after acquiring the sample, researchers said.

"Our goal is to develop breath analysis to the point where it becomes competitive with the established analysis of blood and urine," Malcolm Kohler, professor at the University Hospital Zurich, said.

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