Scientists may soon be able to reveal more about you from your breath than you think. That's because some diseases cause specific chemicals to be discharged in the breath. For example, the breath of a person with liver disease contains dimethyl sulfide. But so far, breath analyzers have been unable to detect very small amounts of specific chemicals or to take continuous readings.
Now, researchers at Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, have come up with a highly sensitive analyzer that tests each breath so researchers can watch fluctuations of a chosen chemical in a person. The analyzer was adapted from an instrument that measures trace gases in the atmosphere.
Besides disease diagnosis, Battelle chemist Don Kenny says, the device could be used to study worker exposure to chemicals -- say, in the dry-cleaning industry. Next, the Battelle team wants to collaborate with medical researchers in human studies to determine the actual levels of chemicals in the breath that indicate specific diseases.