The Nose Knows

Human-noseThe Police turned ‘Every Breath You Take‘ into a huge hit. But it’s doubtful Sting and the boys had any idea that almost 35 years after their song debuted…..researchers would be using every breath you take to sniff out sickness and disease.


Smell is a primary human sense, key to our survival.

Like a super-sensitive human nose, an experimental technology can “smell” and identify the chemical composition of a person’s breath and then diagnose up to 17 potential diseases, according to the scientists who developed it.

These researchers, led by Hossam Haick of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, say their Na-Nose, which uses nanorays to analyze breath, can identify Parkinson’s disease, various cancers, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease with 86% accuracy.

According to, “The science behind the scent of a person’s breath lies within the suite of organic chemical compounds that we routinely expel into the air with every laugh, yell or sigh. These compounds often come marked with the signs of biochemical changes wrought by specific diseases—a phenomenon that forms the basis of modern breath diagnostics. The problem is, there’s a lot of background noise to sift through: In a cloud of exhaled breath, you’ll typically see hundreds of these compounds.” pointed out how the technology works.

As breath passes over gold nanoparticles, the chemicals in the breath start to interact with them and manipulate the electrical properties of the film. In theory, each chemical in the breath should affect those properties in different ways. The change is subtle; no one property is enough. But with an assist from artificial intelligence, the researchers say they can then figure out what chemical is causing the various subtle changes and with what disease that chemical is associated.

As futuristic as it sounds, the idea of smelling someone’s breath to sniff out sickness is nothing new. Researchers wrote, “As far back as around 400 B.C., Hippocrates told his students to “smell your patients’ breath” to search for clues of diseases such as diabetes (which creates a sweet smell). In more recent times, several teams of scientists have developed experimental breath analyzers, but most of these instruments focus on a single type of disease, such as cancer. In their own work, Hossam Haick and a team of collaborators in 14 clinical departments worldwide wanted to create a breathalyzer that could distinguish among multiple diseases.” listed several key points about this groundbreaking research.


  • The diagnostic tests rely on the premise that everyone’s healthy breath has a profile of chemical compound that give it its smell
  • Diseases have their own chemical compound signatures, that animals like dogs and mosquitoes can smell
  • The scientists hope that breath tests for disease could be cheaper, more painless and even more accurate that traditional blood tests

Share your thoughts on this innovative approach to an ancient belief that our breath may hold the secrets to our health. Do you think these breath tests will one day be commonplace? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Generating meaningful dialogue around the health stories making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!






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