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New computer technology can smell cancer

By Lee Euler / June 7, 2017

Believe it or not, soon you may be able to find out if you have cancer without having to undergo a biopsy, blood test or other invasive procedure.

As a matter of fact, your cancer test won’t even involve somebody having to touch you.

Or, as some researchers suggest, you may be able to test yourself for cancer with your cellphone.

How is all this happening? Keep reading. . .

Continued below. . .

Breast Cancer Survivor was told:
“You’ll be dead in a year”
(Pssst!! That was 12 years ago!)

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Researchers are investigating the use of computerized “electronic noses” to sniff out cancer and other diseases by analyzing the chemicals in our breath.

And it works.

An old idea

Many attribute the concept of using a machine to measure smells and odor to Alexander Graham Bell, the man credited with inventing the telephone.

Bell once said – “… Until you can measure (odors’) likeness and differences, you can have no science of odor. If you are ambitious to find a new science, measure a smell.”

Previous to Bell, before anyone conceived that a machine could be constructed to measure odors, ancient healers like Hippocrates argued that physicians could detect disease in their patients by smell. And more recently, dogs have been trained to sniff out illness.

But these days investigators are constructing electronic noses that take advantage of computer technology to make the fine distinctions necessary to sort out what chemicals are present in odors. The chemical profile reveals what’s going on inside the body. Someday the technology could be small enough to incorporate into cellphones.

A collection of odors

According to researchers who have analyzed what’s in our breath — and which of those chemicals signify cancer — each time we exhale we breathe out a mixture of carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen and over 100 other compounds that float away into the air around us. And it’s the relative amounts of each of these substances that signify whether you have cancer or some other disease — or if you’re in good health.

In one study, scientists at Technion (the Israel Institute of Technology), in collaboration with researchers at 14 other institutions in various countries, developed a data base designed to identify the chemical signatures of 17 different diseases including cancers of the kidneys, prostate, ovaries, bladder, stomach, prostate, and colon along with head and neck cancer. Also included were two different types of Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, chronic kidney disease and hypertension.1

To find the chemical signs of each condition, the researchers designed what is called an “array of nanoscale sensors.” A nanoscale sensor is a detecting device that uses microscopic changes in molecules in the sensor to detect and identify chemicals.

The Technion researchers used a sensor that contains tiny tubes called carbon nanotubes that funnel the chemicals in people’s breath so that they interact with gold particles – an interaction that allows a chemical analysis of what the breath contains.

Advances in computing power are the chief driving force behind this technology – the final analysis isn’t done by humans, it is performed with the use of computerized artificial intelligence that determines what compounds are present in the breath and in what proportions. The artificial intelligence is built on algorithms – step-by-step computer routines designed to perform specific tasks – in this case, simulating the sense of smell.

Despite the high tech nature of this equipment, according to researcher Hassam Haick, getting the computer system to recognize cancer and other diseases from people’s breath comes down to training it the way you’d train a dog to recognize particular odors.

As he puts it, “We bring something to the nose of a dog, and the dog will transfer that chemical mixture to an electrical signature and provide it to the brain, and then memorize it in specific regions of the brain … This is exactly what we do,” he says. “We let it (the sensor) smell a given disease… and instead of the (dog) brain we use the algorithms. Then in the future, it (the computer) can recognize the disease as a dog might recognize a scent.”2

Testing for cancer

An interesting aspect of these new tests for cancer is that when you have an illness like cancer, the disease doesn’t change which chemicals are found in your breath, but it shifts the proportions of these chemicals.

Demonstrating this, a study in the Imperial College, London, shows that the relative levels of five chemicals in your breath can indicate the presence of esophageal or stomach cancer. This research, initially examining 300 people, so far has an accuracy rate of 85%.3

The British scientists note that these two types of cancer are discovered in around 1.4 million people globally each year. Because the symptoms of these cancers are not clear cut, they are often not diagnosed until the cancer has spread and has become deadly. As a result, within five years of diagnosis, only about one patient out of six is still alive.

Widespread use of breath analysis to detect these diseases could save money and many lives. As researcher Sheraz Markar points out, “At present the only way to diagnose esophageal cancer or stomach cancer is with endoscopy. This method is expensive, invasive and has some risk of complications.”

The five chemicals that vary in these cancers are butyric, pentanoic and hexanoic acids as well as butanal, and decanal. By measuring the proportions of the five compounds, the scientists could differentiate among people with stomach or esophageal cancer and those who merely have symptoms like heartburn or digestive pain but don’t have cancer.

Diseases give themselves away by their smell

The research around the world on computerized disease sniffing has found these electronic noses can do a number of other intriguing things:

  • A test at the University of Vermont shows that a breath analysis can detect different types and strains of bacteria that infect the lungs. The researchers say the analysis could be used to search out infections like tuberculosis.4
  • A study at Tel Aviv University demonstrates that sniff tests can distinguish between subtypes of lung tumors and can indicate the size of tumors.5
  • Research at Yale shows that an electronic nose can detect skin vapors and distinguish which fatty acids may be predominant in the body.6

But beware of what Big Brother
may do with the technology

There may also be a “Big Brother” surveillance aspect to all of this research. Aside from detecting illness, analyses of breath could soon be used for identification purposes.

The proportion of gases in your breath and mine is as individual as a fingerprint.

Research at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology shows that each of us has a core “breathprint” that is uniquely possessed by one individual and can be traced back to its owner – even though there are some variations in breath chemicals during different times of the day.7

I’m not so sure how I feel about that. I could foresee a day when, at places like airports, you might have to go through a breath scanner that would know exactly who you are, where you’ve been and even what you’ve been eating. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how that aspect of electronic nose technology turns out.

Best regards,

Lee Euler,
Publisher

References:
1 http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acsnano.6b04930
2 http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/your-bad-breath-doesnt-just-repulseit-can-also-reveal-disease-180961527/
3 http://www.eccocongress.org/Global/News/ECCO2017-News/2017/01/ECCO2017-NEWS-Breath-test-could-help-detect-stomach-and-oesophageal-cancers
4 http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1752-7155/7/1/016003/meta;jsessionid=BCBBA3BAEB07461A14495709EED5B777.c1.iopscience.cld.iop.org
5 http://meetinglibrary.asco.org/content/131824-144
6 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1016/j.jasms.2009.01.012
7 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0059909
About the author

Lee Euler

Hi I'm Lee Euler, I’ve spent over a decade investigating every possible way a person can beat cancer. In fact, our commitment to defeating cancer has made us the world’s #1 publisher of information about Alternative Cancer Treatments -- with over 20 books and 700 newsletters on the subject. If you haven't heard about all your cancer options, or if you want to make sure you don’t miss even one answer to this terrible disease, then join our newsletter. When you do, I'll keep you informed each week about the hundreds of alternative cancer treatments that people are using to cure cancer all over the world.

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