A sensitive, simple optical method for detecting formaldehyde in a person's breath has been developed by researchers.
This new method could one day lead to a fast way to screen for cancer. The findings of the study are published in Biomedical Optics Express.
"Measuring biomarkers in exhaled breath is noninvasive, painless and fast and could be used to screen for cancer even at very early disease stages, which is crucial for successful treatment," said research team leader Mateusz Winkowski from the University of Warsaw in Poland.
The new optical sensing method is based on multipass spectroscopy. It helps detect the presence of 1 molecule of formaldehyde in a million air particles, or 1 part per million, even in the presence of gasses that can interfere with optical measurements.
"Our dream is to one day build a table-top device that would be inexpensive and could be used for cancer screening in any medical consulting room," said Winkowski.
"During a basic medical examination, the patient could blow into the device, and within a minute, the doctor would know if the patient might need additional conventional examinations."
The researchers tested their new approach using calibrated artificial mixtures of formaldehyde in the air. The study results showed that the method was more than sufficient to detect formaldehyde in a breath at levels that might indicate the presence of disease.
Next, the researchers plan to test their analysis approach's ability to measure ethane gas in breath. Ethane might also be used as a biomarker for cancer and other diseases.