Published On: Thu, Dec 22nd, 2016

You Are What You Exhale: Different Diseases Have Distinct Chemical Signature


Dr. Morad Nakhleh - Photo credit Office of the Spokesperson,  Technion


The ancient Greeks were right! Each disease has its own chemical signature that can be identify just by “smelling” the patient’s breath, and using artificial intelligence to analyze the data obtained from the sensors.

Diagnostic techniques based on breath samples have been demonstrated in the past, but until now, there has not been scientific proof of the hypothesis that different and unrelated diseases are characterized by distinct chemical breath signatures.

This hypothesis first proposed by the ancient Greeks was confirmed by an international team of 56 researchers in five countries, led by Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Department of Chemical Engineering.

The findings were published today in ACS Nano.

The study of more than 1, 400 patients included 17 different and unrelated diseases: lung cancer, colorectal cancer, head and neck cancer, ovarian cancer, bladder cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s disease (two types), multiple sclerosis, pulmonary hypertension, preeclampsia and chronic kidney disease.

Samples were collected between January 2011 and June 2014 from in 14 departments at 9 medical centers in 5 countries: Israel, France, the USA, Latvia and China.


Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology


The researchers tested the chemical composition of the breath samples which enabled accurate quantitative detection of the chemical compounds they contained. 13 chemical components were identified, in different compositions, in all 17 of the diseases.

“Each of these diseases is characterized by a unique fingerprint, meaning a different composition of these 13 chemical components.”according to Prof. Haick. “Just as each of us has a unique fingerprint that distinguishes us from others, each disease has a chemical signature that distinguishes it from other diseases and from a normal state of health. These odor signatures are what enables us to identify the diseases using the technology that we developed.”

With a new technology called “artificially intelligent nanoarray, ” developed by Prof. Haick, the researchers were able to corroborate the clinical efficacy of the diagnostic technology. The array enables fast and inexpensive diagnosis and classification of diseases, based on “smelling” the patient’s breath, and using artificial intelligence to analyze the data obtained from the sensors. The system has detected and classified various diseases with an average accuracy of 86%.


“This is a new and promising direction for diagnosis and classification of diseases, which is characterized not only by considerable accuracy but also by low cost, low electricity consumption, miniaturization, comfort and the possibility of repeating the test easily.” Prof. Haick said. “Breath is an excellent raw material for diagnosis, ” said Prof. Haick. “It is available without the need for invasive and unpleasant procedures, it’s not dangerous, and you can sample it again and again if necessary.”



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