image credit: University of Adelaide/Youtube
Researchers from the University of Adelaide are in the process of developing a laser system for fast, non-invasive, onsite breath analysis for disease. Equating the instrument, which uses a special laser to measure the molecular content of a sample of gas, to an “optical dog’s nose”, this system has the potential to enable screening for a range of disease including diabetes, infections and various cancers in the future.
Dr James Anstie, from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing, said: “Rather than sniffing out a variety of smells as a dog would, the laser system uses light to “sense” the range of molecules that are present in the sample.
“Those molecules are by-products of metabolic processes in the body and their levels change when things go wrong. There have been good studies undertaken around the world which show that disease like lung and oesophageal cancer, asthma and diabetes can be detected in this way, even before external symptoms are showing.”
Despite being a relatively new field, the system already in place offers almost-instant results, high sensitivity and the ability to test for a range of molecules at once – making it promising for broad scale health screening.
The system developed by Dr Antsie, and colleagues, uses a specialised laser that sends up to a million different light frequencies through the sample in parallel. Each molecule absorbs light at different optical frequencies and therefore has a unique molecular fingerprint.
Dr Antsie added: “We now have a robust system to be able to detect the presence and concentrations of molecules in a sample. The next step is to work out how to accurately sample and interpret the levels which will naturally vary from person to person.”
Dr Anstie believes the group will have a working prototype in 2-3 years and a commercial “plug and play” product could be available in 3-5 years. Other potential applications include measuring trace gasses, such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, and detecting impurities in natural gas streams.
The research was published in the journal Optics Express.