Golden Breathalyzer Could Diagnose Lung CancerS

Lung cancer diagnosis can be an invasive process, involving CT scans and tissue biopsies. But a new nanotechnological process for cancer detection could make diagnosis lung cancer as simple as breathing into a tube.

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa created a silicon-gold circuit by embedding gold nanoparticles in a silicon wafer. They then had 40 cancer patients and 56 people with healthy lungs fill mylar bags with healthy air, and had the air blown over the silicon-gold circuits.

Tumorous growths tear certain chemicals out of tissue, so that air in cancer-affected lungs contains molecules that healthy lungs do not. The research team chose to track four such chemicals: decane, trimethylbenzene, ethylbenzene, and heptanol. When the chemicals bind to the organic coat on the nanowires, they change the circuit's electrical resistance in a predictable way.

With some tweaking, the team hopes that the device will prove a reliable test for lung cancer, and, since the the circuits can be reused, it would be a relatively inexpensive, not to mention portable, method of detection. But aside from its convenience, breath testing could have another thing up on existing methods of lung cancer diagnosis: it could detect cancer too small to show up on an X-ray or CT scan, meaning it might detect lung cancer at a much earlier stage.

A Breathalyzer for Cancer [ScienceNOW]