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Scientists from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have developed a laser-based breathalyzer that utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) and frequency comb spectroscopy. Created to detect COVID-19, the breathalyzer shows promise in revolutionizing medical diagnostics by potentially identifying diseases like cancer and diabetes.

A new breathalyzer device can detect low-concentration trace molecules

With a significant improvement in sensitivity, the device can detect trace molecules at incredibly low concentrations. The integration of AI enables machine learning to analyze data, identify patterns, and develop diagnostic criteria. This groundbreaking technology has extensive applications in the diagnosis of various conditions.

The breathalyzer’s effectiveness in detecting COVID-19 is notable, but its true potential lies in its capability to diagnose various diseases. For example, diseases such as cancer and diabetes change the body’s metabolism and result in distinct alterations in breath composition. This suggests that the breathalyzer, which can detect tiny molecules, has the potential to diagnose these diseases by identifying their unique “breathprints.” Such a development would significantly advance medical diagnostics, providing a non-invasive, rapid, and affordable diagnostic tool that doesn’t rely on expensive chemicals or uncomfortable procedures.

Researchers developing a miniature breathalyzer

Researchers are currently developing a miniaturized breathalyzer system that can be integrated into a chip, enabling real-time individual-health monitoring. The aim is to make medical diagnostics accessible and convenient for the general public. This advancement could allow individuals to instantly check their health status, potentially utilizing a breathalyzer device incorporated into their smartphones. In addition, the technology has the potential to play a significant role in early disease detection, particularly for conditions like diabetes and cancer.

Molecular biologist Leslie Leinwand, the chief scientific officer for BioFrontiers and a co-author of the study, highlights the potential of finding a breath signature that can detect pancreatic cancer even before symptoms appear, describing it as a significant breakthrough.

The breathalyzer team aims to support the creation of a Human Breath Atlas, a project that seeks to map all the molecules found in human breath and analyze their connection to health conditions.