Researchers at the University of Manchester have evolved a method to diagnose lung disease that is based on the techniques employed to detect chemical warfare agents. Dr Paul Thomas led a team of researchers in using a sensor employed to check out explosives at the airports.
The sensor, called a microDMxTM sensor was developed by Sionex Corporation, is now being used by researchers to detect "unhealthy" molecules emanating from the breath of a patient. This method is being tested at Wythenshawe Hospital's North West Lung Research Center (NWLRC). Doctors ultimately want to develop a device that can sniff out lung disease by simply asking the patient to breathe out. The device is based on the same principle as seen in Differential Mobility Spectrometer (DMS) and has the potential to identify molecules that could cause respiratory ailments like cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. "Our vision is that one day we will be able to detect a previously undetectable tumor metabolizing inside a human lung simply by asking a patient to breathe into a device like this. For now our aim to use the microDMx sensor to develop better instruments which will improve patient care and treatment," said Dr Paul Thomas, lead researcher from the University's School of Chemical Engineering and Analytical Science. "The potential is such that we will not only be able to provide more accurate diagnosis, but we will also be able to tailor treatments to the individual. For instance, if a patient is taking steroids for asthma, we would be able determine whether they were being given the right amount of steroids from the molecules in their breath which relate to the severity of the inflammation in their lungs." The microDMx sensor also has the ability to analyze different molecules and block out those that are associated with "sore throats or chesty coughs." Dr Thomas said that the potential of the device is immense, "What is unique about this sensor, and the use of the microDMx technology, is the fact that it can be configured to not just analyze one disease or condition, but it has the potential to be used to analyze a broad spectrum of conditions from asthma, to cancer and metabolic disorders such as diabetes."
Contact Simon Hunter
University of Manchester