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You Just Put Your Lips Together and Blow


There is apparently a lot to be learned from the smell of someone's breath, says Brown University grad student Katie Pratt on the Benchfly blog. The volatile organic compounds naturally present in a person's breath — a normal by-product of cellular metabolism — could soon be used to detect whether that person has cancer, Pratt says. Because cancer cells have a "drastically altered" metabolism and excrete different chemicals in the blood, some researchers are hoping to be able to pick up those VOCs in a patient's breath, she adds. Measuring a patient's VOCs could become a non-invasive early screening method for oncologists, but the challenge will be in creating a reliable method to detect VOC biomarkers in the breath. Researchers in Israel have been perfecting a Nanoscale Artificial Nose, which utilizes tiny particles of gold conjugated to molecules to interact with VOCs, Pratt says. "Different combinations of detector molecules, or ligands, can be used depending on what VOCs you want to 'smell'. Importantly the Na-Nose can be synthesized in such a way that it can ignore potentially confounding VOCs present in a patient's breath that often result from smoking, gender, or medications," she adds. Such a device might be of use in the clinic in a matter of years for at-risk individuals or for following up with cancer survivors.

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