Toshiba's New Breathalyzer Diagnoses Diseases, Not Drunks

Toshiba just took the wraps off a medical breathalyzer that the company says can diagnose diseases by analyzing the air a patient exhales. "Bad breath" just took on a whole new meaning.

The company's breath analyzer prototype blasts a patient's exhaled breath with a quantum cascade laser. Gaseous compounds in the patient's breath absorb energy from the laser, then emit the energy in measurable forms that are unique to each compound. The energy emitted is then analyzed, a process known as spectroscopy.

Currently, Toshiba says the device can detect acetone (an indicator of diabetes), acetaldehyde (made when the body metabolizes alcohol, and responsible for hangovers) and methane (whose levels indicate a patient's intestinal health). In addition to disease monitoring, the company envisions the device being used to guide diet, exercise, and nutritional support.

Diagnosing disease by a patient's breath is not a new idea; ancient Greek physician Hippocrates suggested certain breath smells indicated liver disease, and modern doctors know that acetone-scented breath can indicate a severe problem in patients with diabetes. Researchers have been on the hunt for a way to use breath analysis as a reliable diagnostic tool, even using specially-trained dogs to detect lung cancer on a patient's breath.

But to make breath analysis medically rigorous, we'll need something more fine-tuned and precise than your doctor's nose. Toshiba will begin studying the machine's ability to correlate acetone concentrations with fat metabolism next month. It'll probably take a while for this tech to reach your doctor's office though. Don't hold your breath. [Toshiba via The News]

Image: Toshiba