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Breath Diagnostic Device Built on Common Computer Chip

Electronic nose circuit board

Circuit board with “electronic nose” chip embedded to right of the quarter and under the notation CHIP1 (Texas Analog Center of Excellence, University of Texas – Dallas)

16 June 2016. A device acting like an electronic nose to analyze exhaled breath for diagnosing disease is being developed at an engineering lab at University of Texas in Dallas. A team led by recent UT-Dallas doctorate Navneet Sharma described the device yesterday in a paper at the 2016 IEEE Symposia on VLSI Technology and Circuits in Honolulu.

While many breath analysis devices are on the market, the team from the Texas Analog Center of Excellence at UT-Dallas — with colleagues from Ohio State and Wright State universities — are seeking a simpler and less expensive alternative to today’s bulky, complicated, and expensive systems. To meet this goal, the researchers designed their device to work on a complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor, or CMOS, chip, the familiar integrated circuit found in everyday electronic devices.

Odors encountered from exhaled breath are the result of reactions in the stomach and blood from chemicals as they reach the air in the lungs. The device detects chemical molecules in the gas exhaled from an individual, with a rotational spectrometer that transmits electromagnetic waves. As the electromagnetic waves interact with the gas molecules, they produce characteristic electronic signals that the device detects and interprets. Developers of this device they call an “electronic nose” say it can detect these gas molecules even in low concentrations.

As a proof of concept, the researchers tested the device to distinguish between acetone gas and ethanol in breath. That distinction is important, since people with type 1 diabetes produce acetone in their blood and breath, which in police breathalyzer tests is often confused with ethanol leading to DUI arrests. The researchers report their device could accurately identify acetone gas from exhaled ethanol.

The researchers believe their device has the potential to give the same results of today’s blood test without drawing blood. “Smell is one of the senses of humans and animals, and there have been many efforts to build an electronic nose,” says Sharma in a university statement. “We have demonstrated that you can build an affordable electronic nose that can sense many different kinds of smells. When you’re smelling something, you are detecting chemical molecules in the air.”

The team is designing a prototype programmable system for field testing in early 2018. The researchers expect the electronic nose to be used first in industrial settings, and later in clinics and hospitals. Eventually, the device could become a household appliance, reducing the need for diagnostic blood tests.

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