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New electronic nose can analyse your breath, find diseases

Friday, Jun 17, 2016,16:32 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Houston | An affordable electronic nose that can be used in breath analysis for a wide range of health diagnosis is being developed by researchers including one of Indian-origin.

While devices that can conduct breath analysis using compound semiconductors exist, they are bulky and too costly for commercial use, said Kenneth O from University of Texas (UT Dallas) in the US. Researchers determined that using CMOS integrated circuits technology will make the electronic nose more affordable.

CMOS is the integrated circuits technology used to manufacture the bulk of electronics that have made smartphones, tablets and other devices possible, researchers said. Smell is one of the senses of humans and animals, and there have been many efforts to build an electronic nose.

We have demonstrated that you can build an affordable electronic nose that can sense many different kinds of smells, said Navneet Sharma from UT Dallas. When you are smelling something, you are detecting chemical molecules in the air. Similarly, an electronic nose detects chemical compounds using rotational spectroscopy, said Sharma.

The rotational spectrometre generates and transmits electromagnetic waves over a wide range of frequencies, and analyses how the waves are attenuated to determine what chemicals are present as well as their concentrations in a sample, researchers said.

The system can detect low levels of chemicals present in human breath. Breaths contain gases from the stomach and that come out of blood when it comes into contact with air in the lungs. The breath test is a blood test without taking blood samples. Breath contains information about practically every part of a human body.

The electronic nose can detect gas molecules with more specificity and sensitivity than breathalysers, which can confuse acetone for ethanol in the breath, researchers said. The distinction is important, for example, for patients with Type 1 diabetes who have high concentrations of acetone in their breath, they said.

Imaging applications, hearing devices, touch sensors – what we are talking about here is developing a device that imitates another one of our sensing modalities and making it affordable and widely available, said Kenneth. The researchers envision the CMOS-based device will first be used in industrial settings and then in doctors’ offices and hospitals.

As the technology matures, they could become household devices. The need for blood work and gastrointestinal tests could be reduced, and diseases could be detected earlier, lowering the costs of health care, said Kenneth.

Researchers are working toward construction of a prototype programmable electronic nose that can be made available for beta testing in early 2018.

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