Compact breath sniffer could warn of diabetes

Toshiba's medical breath analyzer can check your fat metabolism

A woman tries a prototype medical breath analyzer developed by Toshiba. The company says it could help detect traces of medical conditions such as diabetes and is quicker and more compact than similar breath analysis machines.

A woman tries a prototype medical breath analyzer developed by Toshiba. The company says it could help detect traces of medical conditions such as diabetes and is quicker and more compact than similar breath analysis machines.

If you're worried about being out of shape, or suspect you might have a disease like diabetes, just breathe into this Toshiba tube.

It's part of a prototype medical breath analyzer that's small enough to be used in small clinics or gyms.

By detecting trace gases that are exhaled, it could be used to monitor health indicators such as fat metabolism and help diagnose disease, Toshiba said.

"The main feature of this analyzer is its compact form," said a spokesman for Toshiba. "It's the size of a personal computer. Previously developed devices were larger and could only be used in facilities such as hospitals."

Another merit is speed, providing analysis results in about 30 seconds, he said.

Some doctors believe that breath analysis could one day be a vital tool for medical testing, along with blood tests and tissue imaging.

Toshiba used gas analysis technologies from its semiconductor and other manufacturing operations to develop the device. An infrared laser shines on the exhalation while a spectrum analysis component checks for telltale signs of organic compounds.

Using a quantum cascade laser, which is a semiconductor laser used in gas analysis, allowed the analyzer to have a small form factor while retaining the accuracy of larger, floor-mounted devices, Toshiba said.

The current version of the device can measure organic compounds such as acetone, which can indicate obesity and diabetes, and acetaldehyde, which is involved in the chemistry of hangovers.

Toshiba plans to improve the analyzer so it will be able to also detect carbon monoxide, methane, nitric monoxide and other constituents to be able to check on conditions such as smoking, intestinal bacteria, asthma and helicobacter pylori, a stomach bacterium linked to ulcers and cancer.

In conjunction with the manufacturer, Waseda University in Tokyo will begin research next month into measuring acetone in exhaled breath in an attempt to measure fat metabolism. The results could yield new approaches to formulating diets and food supplements.

Toshiba said it wants to work with universities and hospitals to pool knowledge of breath analysis for diagnostic and other applications.

It plans to commercialize the analyzer in 2015, first in Japan and possibly overseas in the future, the Toshiba spokesman said.

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