Chemical engineers created a device that detects odors imperceptible to human smell and improves medical diagnosis.

Smell is one of the most valuable tools for a doctor. However, several diseases have odorless characteristics. That’s why Hossam Haick, a chemical engineer at the Israel-Technion Institute of Technology in Haifa, developed a device to detect odors that human olfaction does not perceive.

Although it is not something new, as there are already several respirators and even dogs trained to discover diseases such as cancer, Haick wanted to generalize the process. To achieve this he created a device with 20 organic films, each sensitive to a series of compounds present in the breath of patients with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, bladder cancer and pulmonary hypertension, among other ailments.

When one of the films reacts, its electrical resistance changes in a predictable way and this generates an electronic fingerprint with which the patient’s disease can be detected. Haick and his team collected more than 2,800 breath samples from approximately 1,400 patients, and the device was effective in 86 percent of the cases. This could be a useful diagnostic tool in the future. The paper appeared in the journal ACS Nano.