Exhaled breath contains hundreds, possibly thousands, of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), providing a unique signature indicative of metabolic processes and disease states within the body.
These VOCs offer exciting opportunities for a new avenue of health monitoring and disease screening that could 1) be less invasive and lower cost than blood tests, 2) continuously monitor for rapidly changing emergent conditions, and 3) lead to higher patient compliance by avoiding blood draws. This growing field of study is currently hampered by a lack of sensing tools that can measure key biomarkers with high accuracy and specificity while they vary throughout the breath cycle.
The Hanson Research Group has developed laser-based breath sensors for monitoring biomarkers of life-threatening conditions including hyperammonemia (indicated with ammonia) and ketoacidosis (indicated with acetone). These sensors have been used in patient studies at the Stanford University Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital.
The field of breath sensing is still in its infancy, and many opportunities will inevitably emerge for novel sensing technologies to improve patient care.