CU professor develops a device that can detect diseases via breath
Of the many projects being worked on at CU’s JILA laboratories, physics professor Jun Ye is especially excited about a new breath analyzing device he said he believes will dramatically change the field of preventative medicine.
“I really do feel this will take off,” Ye said.
Ye, along with other members of his research group, published an article in Optics Express last week about the development of a device that can test a patient’s breath as a means of diagnosing diseases such as cancer and asthma. The device has garnered public interest due to its potential impact.
The tube-shaped device employs a mirrored chamber that allows beams of laser light to interact with breath samples thousands of times in order to determine the quantity of certain molecules.
The theory behind it is simple; a person’s exhaled breath contains an array of different molecules, and a properly functioning body produces a normal quantity of each molecule. In the event of a disease, exhaled breath contains these molecules in unusual quantities, which this machine detects. Different readings then point to different diseases.
The device’s main component is an optical frequency comb, which works like the gears of a clock to detect optical frequencies.
As a breath is sampled, beams of light and the patient’s breath interact and create a different light spectrum, and the changes in this spectrum are detected by the comb.
The breath analyzer, which has yet to undergo clinical testing, is anticipated to detect a wide variety of diseases.
“One of the diseases that comes to mind right away is kidney failure or liver failure,” said Michael Thorpe, a doctoral candidate in the CU physics department and a member of Ye’s research group at JILA, in a recent podcast.
The concept of disease detection via breath analysis isn’t new. A variety of approaches have been explored by scientists worldwide. However, according to Ye, his device is the first of its kind and the most precise.
He believes it will become the ultimate non-evasive procedure for preventative medicine and will drive down health costs.
He anticipates the device being used in hospitals within the next five years.
As with many other JILA projects, the breath analyzer also acts as a learning tool for students.
“I think any opportunities that JILA does are really important,” said Becka Phillipson, a sophomore astrophysics major. “It allows a lot of student involvement.”
Ye considers the breath analyzer to be a side project to other important JILA endeavors such as the experimental atomic clock, which applies similar technology.
“(It’s) a very beautiful detour,” he said.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Spencer Everett at firstname.lastname@example.org.