Some time ago I introduced the idea that breath analysis may be a future way of diagnosing certain types of diseases, including lung disease. Research into this interesting potential diagnostic pathway has continued. Historically, odors as telltale signs of disease had been noted.

The ancient scientist and philosopher, Aristotle, observed that liver disease was associated with a fecal breath odor and the smell of stale beer on the breath often meant the presence of tuberculosis. More recently a cat named Oscar was apparently able to smell impending death at a nursing home in Rhode Island and would station himself outside the room of a soon to be dead patient.

On a more scientific note, researchers are focusing on odors caused by volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). VOC’s are compounds that result from many metabolic processes and because they are volatile (i.e. they are gaseous in nature) they can be found coming from skin, feces, urine and breath.

Current research is directed at identifying the exact VOC’s associated with their specific diseases. We know that the use of breath analysis in the case of lung cancer, for example, would give us a fantastic tool to screen large population groups for this disease. Some researchers are working to develop sensors that can pick up very specific VOC’s associated with certain disease states and their actual genetic mutations.

The work in this area continues and holds great promise, and I will do my best to keep you abreast of the progress.