Breathprint Detecting Disease Using Mass Spectrometry

The fingerprint has been used to identify who you are, a "breathprint" could reveal how you're doing.

Right now, if doctors want to test you for something, they'll probably draw blood or politely ask you to pee in a cup. Nothing wrong with that, but it'd certainly be convenient if they just asked you to keep breathing instead.

Researchers in Zurich have been studing the process of using "breathprints"--the unique characteristics of a person's breath--to test for illnesses. With a technique known as mass spectrometry, which separates and patterns molecules by measuring their masses

The mass spectrometers used are expensive and weighty, according to researchers, but if the design improves, it could mean better tests for patients. The threshold to perform a breathing test would be much lower than a urine or blood test, since it could send back results in seconds and would be much less invasive. Just breathe.

In another study and according to Raed Dweik, the doctor who runs the pulmonary vascular program at the Cleveland Clinic's Respiratory Institute.

For the past two decades, Dweik has been studying the molecular patterns in breath that can reveal what's happening inside the body. In the same way that a pocket of air above the water level in a closed container carries signature molecules that reflect the composition of that water, our breath is directly linked to what's happening in our blood.

"A lot of people just think breath is what's in your lungs," Dweik told me. "We realize now that anything in your body that is eventually in the blood can be measured in your breath."

That includes diseases like lung cancer, liver disease, heart disease, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease, all of which have "really distinct signatures in the breath," Dweik says. And the medical implications are major: Breath-testing devices—think of them as Breathalyzers that detect disease rather than alcohol—can be just as accurate as traditional blood testing or biopsies, only cheaper and far less invasive.

Some breath-analysis devices highlight higher concentrations of certain molecules, as depicted in the image below:

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