Biometrics to serve in disease diagnosis

Published 14 February 2006

A multidisciplinary team at the University at Buffalo and Roswell Park Cancer Institute is developing a device that could detect the presence of some diseases from a breath sample. The researchers - chemists, electrical and chemical engineers, computer scientists and physicians - have launched the project with the support of a two-year, $400,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation, awarded in December. The device will consist of a suite of chemical sensors that mimic mammals’ olfactory systems by analyzing gaseous metabolites, odors present in human breath. And while there are instruments that fulfill that function now, says principal investigator Frank Bright, they’re unwieldy and cost millions of dollars. The UB team, part of the university’s three-year-old Center for Unified Biometrics and Sensors, expects to have a prototype “sniffer” device resembling a Breathalyzer developed within 18 months. If they’re successful, their instrument will help physicians to diagnose diseases including diabetes, AIDS, some cancers and several mental illnesses in a way that’s inexpensive, portable and noninvasive.

The UB team’s device will contain perhaps a million sensors - vastly higher than the number competing researchers and commercial developers are looking at. He’s designing an LED system that will light up or dim in response to chemical stimuli detected by sensor chips consisting of semiconductor arrays.

Bright said the team will need “several million” dollars to continue its research over the next five years, and will seek additional funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, in particular. The scientists will likely look also at saliva analysis as they develop the breath sensors.

-read more in this MSNBC report