Techwatch: Dr Phone may flag up diabetes, cancer

Different substances in our breath can tell how healthy we are - and new technology is helping make the most of this fact. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Different substances in our breath can tell how healthy we are - and new technology is helping make the most of this fact. Image via Wikimedia Commons

Heavy breathing into a phone? Turns out that could save your life and improve your health, thanks to a new high-precision sensor that signals if you have diabetes, cancer or other diseases.

In a joint project by the government, the private sector and a university, the National Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), based in Tsukuba, developed the small sensor, which is capable of detecting substances in a person’s exhalations with high accuracy by analysing the odour of the breath.

The sensor could be available for use with smartphones or other devices as early as 2022, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reports.

Health at hand

People suffering from diabetes, kidney and liver diseases, asthma and those with Helicobacter pylori all emit different breath odours.

A “film” installed in the sensor, which is a tiny chip of a few millimeters, will determine what substances are present in a person’s breath. By simply exhaling into the sensor, which is connected to a smartphone or other device, the result can be displayed on the screen of the device in a graph or other form, the paper said.

According to NIMS, the sensor will likely be able to distinguish the kind of disease a person has if the sensor’s accuracy is improved and data on odours are collected.

With a base cost of a few hundred yen (¥100 = Dh3.13), the sensor can be produced in large quantities. Its widescale adoption would flag up the possibility of a disease and enable early intervention and treatment. Early detection can save lives in the case of cancer and can reverse the disease completely in case of diabetes.

“It’ll be epoch-making if such a simple examination of exhalations becomes widely available,” professor Masao Miyashita, an expert on digestive surgery and cancer at Nippon Medical School, told the paper.

Research on diagnosing various diseases through exhalations started in Europe and the United States more than 10 years ago. The research has attracted attention in Japan in recent years.