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Nanotech Breathalyzer: A Non-Invasive, Inexpensive Way to Diagnose Lung Cancer

Lung cancer kills 1.3 million people a year and is the leading cause of cancer death across the world. Nearly 220,000 men and women were diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States in 2009, with nearly 160,000 Americans dying from the disease. For years, researchers have been seeking a way to detect lung cancer at its early stages, when it is most treatable. A new device from Israel holds much promise. It may provide an inexpensive, faster, easier screen for cancer than X-rays or blood tests, and has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Using an array of sensors made of gold particles measuring five nanometers wide (one nanometer is 1/100,000 the width of a human hair) layered over a carbon substrate, scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed an “electronic nose” able to distinguish the breath of lung cancer patients from those without the disease. The research results, published at Nature Nanotechnology, could lead to a rapid and non-invasive way of diagnosing and screening for lung cancer In an initial trial, the “breathalyzer” test was able to detect lung cancer with 86 percent accuracy.

Dr. Hossam Haick, one of the scientists working on the sensor, said he hoped it would allow doctors to have a simple test at hand to screen people during routine appointments. “Conventional diagnostic methods for lung cancer are unsuitable for widespread screening because they are expensive and occasionally miss tumors. Given the impact of the rising incidence of cancer on health budgets worldwide, the proposed technology will be a significant savings for both private and public health expenditures,” said Dr. Haick. “The potential exists for using the proposed technology to diagnose other conditions and diseases, which could mean additional cost reductions and enhanced possibilities to save lives.”

This test may give us a way to better understand and better identify those who might have lung cancer earlier, and to treat the disease in more effective ways.

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