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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Drs. Roizen and Oz: Device identifies diseases in your breath

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Monday, January 30, 2017 02:31 am
Q: I know that dogs can sniff out diseases like diabetes and cancer, but I heard about a breathalyzer that can identify multiple sclerosis. Is that true, and if so, how is that possible? — Darin C., Toledo A: As amazing as it sounds, it's true. The breathalyzer-like device is still being tested, but developers found that it's accurate about 86 percent of the time! Like a dog that sniffs out diabetes, the device sniffs out what are called "volatile organic compounds." You naturally have hundreds of VOCs in your breath — your own unique pattern of them, just like a fingerprint. But when found in certain combinations and patterns, VOCs can indicate illness. (Some lung cancers, for example, make a specific VOC not made by normal lung cells.)

The device, being developed by a research team from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, uses gold and carbon nanoparticles in what's called a nanoarray to identify the "breath prints" of different diseases — and it does so quickly and relatively inexpensively. At this point it can ID 17 different illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis, and it is being tested on renal failure (kidney disease), lung cancer, gastric cancers and even tuberculosis. Another version, using a flexible film strip layered with gold nanoparticle "breath sensors" can identify ovarian cancer 80 percent of the time.

To check the reliability of the device, the researchers have tested just over 1,400 people (813 with known diseases and 591 controls) from five different countries. After analyzing the data with a sprinkle of algorithms developed using artificial intelligence and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry, the researchers are pretty confident that they have the makings of a breathalyzer that'll be able to "accelerate first-line medical evaluations to a matter of minutes." This kind of "Star Trek" technology, well, it takes your breath away.

Q: One of my neighbors thinks vaccines are a health risk, and she can't be convinced of the science. I read her your columns about HPV vaccines because she has three daughters, but I can't get through to her. What else can I do? — Jenny E., Largo, Fla.

A: It's ironic, but it's precisely because of the great success of vaccines that she has the luxury to think like that. Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980, and we're betting your friend has never seen a child die from measles or witnessed the crippling and scarring left behind by polio. The chance your friend's kids will benefit versus suffer a serious complication from an entire battery of vaccines is more than 40,000 to 1. When vaccines are doing their job and most of the population is getting them, it makes it seem far less urgent to get the inoculations — but actually, it's just as important as ever.

Here's another example that shows how important vaccines are and how effective they can be in protecting the general population:

Rotavirus is a highly contagious stomach bug that triggers stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever and vomiting. Traditionally, it sent one in five children to the doctor and one in 10 to the hospital. But since the rotavirus vaccine was developed in 2013 (given as two doses, one at 8 weeks old and the second at 12 weeks), childhood cases have dropped almost 70 percent. And after it became part of the national infant immunization program in the U.K. (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also lists it on their infant vaccination schedule), British researchers noted something else: Cases of rotavirus, as well as acute gastroenteritis, declined in older children and adults. They call it "herd immunity": Everyone benefits from the vaccine even if they haven't had it, because of the overall decrease in instances of circulating rotavirus. In short, because babies are vaccinated, we all stay healthier.

Unfortunately, if too many folks skip vaccines, the herd immunity fails, and a disease can reappear. That is particularly a hazard for the young, elderly and those with a compromised immune system (like someone going through chemotherapy).

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to youdocsdaily@sharecare.com.

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