The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program brings together the technological, entrepreneurial, and business know-how to bring discoveries ripe for innovation out of the university lab. Find out more in these I-Corps videos.
Credit: National Science Foundation
With few early symptoms, ovarian cancer--like many cancers--can be hard to detect without invasive and expensive procedures. "Early detection is absolutely not only key but probably the only way for us to win the war on cancer," says Vadim Backman who is a biomedical engineer at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Backman's research is shedding light on how early cancer detection can be made cheaper, more accurate and less invasive. Find out more in this Science Nation video.
Credit: Science Nation, National Science Foundation
The first biodegradable fluorescent nanoparticle to safely image tumors and organs in live mice could be used for cancer detection and treatment in humans. Learn more in this Discovery.
Credit: Luo Gu, Ji-Ho Park, UCSD
A computer scientist from the University of Houston and a doctor of sleep medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston have teamed up to create a new, less invasive method of diagnosing sleep apnea. Find out more in this news release.
Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation; All images in blue band at the bottom (traditional output, Thermal Infrared Imaging output, and thermal camera and computer set-up) courtesy of Computational Physiology Lab, University of Houston
The mission of the Division of Materials Research (DMR) of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences is to make new discoveries about the behavior of matter and materials; to create new materials and new knowledge about materials phenomena; and to address fundamental materials questions that often transcend traditional scientific and engineering disciplines and may lead to new technologies.
By blasting a person's breath with laser light, scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado at Boulder have shown that they can detect molecules that may be markers for diseases like asthma or cancer.
Computational biologists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed an analytical technique to detect the multiple genetic variations that contribute to complex disease syndromes such as diabetes, asthma and cancer.
Yale scientists have created nanowire sensors coupled with simple microprocessor electronics that are both sensitive and specific enough to be used for point-of-care disease detection.
May 7, 2012
This Breathalyzer Reveals Signs of Disease
One exhale and new device could screen for everything from diabetes to lung cancer
This invention could give new meaning to the term "bad breath!" It's the Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer, and when you blow into it, you get tested for a biomarkeróa sign of disease. As amazing as that sounds, the process is actually very simple thanks to ceramics nanotechnology. All it takes is a single exhale.
You blow into a small valve attached to a box that is about half the size of your typical shoebox and weighs less than one pound. Once you blow into it, the lights on top of the box will give you an instant readout. A green light means you pass (and your bad breath is not indicative of an underlying disease; perhaps itís just a result of the raw onions you ingested recently); however, a red light means you might need to take a trip to the doctorís office to check if something more serious is an issue.
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Professor Perena Gouma and her team at Stony Brook University in New York developed a sensor chip that you might say is the "brain" of the breathalyzer. It's coated with tiny nanowires that look like microscopic spaghetti and are able to detect minute amounts of chemical compounds in the breath. "These nanowires enable the sensor to detect just a few molecules of the disease marker gas in a 'sea' of billions of molecules of other compounds that the breath consists of," Gouma explains. This is what nanotechnology is all about.
You can't buy this in the stores just yet--individual tests such as an acetone-detecting breathalyzer for monitoring diabetes and an ammonia-detecting breathalyzer to determine when to end a home-based hemodialysis treatment--are still being evaluated clinically. However, researchers envision developing the technology such that a number of these tests can be performed with a single device. Within a couple of years, you might be able to self-detect a whole range of diseases and disorders, including lung cancer, by just exhaling into a handheld breathalyzer.
Handheld breath tests to estimate blood alcohol content and nitric oxide detectors used in hospitals to monitor pulmonary infections have been around for a while, but there is no consumer-based technology like this currently available. The research team envisions the cost of the final product being under $20, just one of many reasons Gouma thinks the Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer has the potential to empower individuals to take care of their own health like never before. "People can get something over the counter and it's going to be a first response or first detection type of device. This is really a nanomedicine application that is affordable because it is based on inexpensive ceramic materials that can be mass produced at low cost," she notes.
The manufacturing process that creates the single crystal nanowires is called "electrospinning." It starts with a liquid compound being shot from a syringe into an electrical field. The electric field crystallizes the inserted liquid into a tiny thread or "wire" that collects onto an aluminum backing. Gouma says enough nanowire can be produced in one syringe to stretch from her lab in Stony Brook, N.Y. to the moon and still be a single grain (monocrystal).
"There can be different types of nanowires, each with a tailored arrangement of metal and oxygen atoms along their configuration, so as to capture a particular compound," explains Gouma. "For example, some nanowires might be able to capture ammonia molecules, while others capture just acetone and others just the nitric oxide. Each of these biomarkers signal a specific disease or metabolic malfunction so a distinct diagnostic breathalyzer can be designed."
"This concept could not have been realized without a fundamental understanding of the material used to create the miniaturized gas detectors," said Janice Hicks, a deputy division director in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at NSF. "The research transcends traditional scientific and engineering disciplines and may lead to new applications or diagnostics."
Gouma also says the nanowires can be rigged to detect infectious viruses and microbes like Salmonella, E. coli or even anthrax. "There will be so many other applications we haven't envisioned. It's very exciting; it's a whole new world," she says.
Gouma is also one of the first researchers selected to participate in NSF's new Innovation Corps (I-Corps). Spanning a broad range of target products, geographic locales and research fields, I-Corps researchers receive guidance from private- and public-sector experts, participate in a specially designed training curriculum and receive $50,000 to begin assessing the commercial readiness of their technology concepts.
The award process was intense, yet swift, with less than 30 days passing between the acceptance of the proposals and the issuing of each award by NSF's Division of Grants and Agreements. Gouma's I-Corps research involves the use of electrospun ceramic nanofiber-based photocatalytic grids for cleaning up water contaminated by petroleum-based hydrocarbons. "I-Corps has been a unique learning experience, and as a scientist who creates new knowledge, I want to use my discoveries to find solutions to current problems in the world," says Gouma.
"I-Corps has generated tremendous excitement," says I-Corps program officer Errol Arkilic. "Our first round of awards emerged from a wide array of fields and strong fundamental research efforts. All show promise as potential innovations that could yield additional direct benefits to society."
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.