Future Diabetes and Cancer Tests Through Breath and Urine

Development is underway on a new medical device that might be able to test for diabetes, cancer, or respiratory ailments, through breath and urine. This could help limit the need for costly and invasive blood tests and biopsy procedures.

The new device will be a type of ”optical gas sensor.” Optical gas sensors (OGS´s) have a wide variety of applications currently, ranging from work place safety, to environmental planning and testing, to detecting explosives in battle. They work through a fine-tuned analysis of molecules in gas vapor. The main problem is that OGS´s are currently too large and heavy to be practically utilized in homes or individual doctors offices, and therefore have not been developed for ”personal” use, until now.

More specifically, the device currently under construction, has been named the opto-fluidic ring resonator (OFRR). The analyzable molecules (those with characteristics of certain diseases) of certain gas vapor, which will come from breath or urine, enters a ”ring resonator,” after the molecules have been ”separated” from each other within the gas vapor, while passing through a polymer-lined glass tube. The crucial separation is due to highly energetic light encircling the gas vapor (or liquid, creating the essential gas vapor, as is the case with urine) within the glass tube, reacting with the vapor, and separating it into more basic constituents. The molecules are then analyzed within the ring resonator. This process enables a very precise analysis or certain gaseous contents.

”We hope to design a vapor sensor that has ultra-high sensitivity, specific and rapid response to a certain molecule, as well as the ability of on-the-spot chemical analyses, which usually requires the sensor to be small, portable, reusable and have less power consumption,” says principal investigator Dr. Xudong Fan. The hope is that the new, portable device, will not only be of help in medical diagnoses, through urine and breath tests, but also to military personnel as well. Dr. Fan proclaims that ”if the gas sensor is portable, military personnel can determine more quickly whether an area is dangerous.”

The most immediate and far-reaching application of this device, however, should be as an alternative to common, invasive cancer and diabetes tests. Concludes Dr. Fan: “Little traces of certain gas molecules in the breath or urine tell us if anything unusual is going on in the body. Measuring these volatile markers would be a non-invasive way to determine if a disease is present without having to draw blood or complete a biopsy.”

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Fan, Xudong. Jackson, Kelsey. University of Missouri news release. March 2009.