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Perhaps you’ve read that dogs can be trained to detect cancer. Various tumors produce specific alkalines and smelly compounds that dogs — with their ability to discriminate odors as discrete as possibly parts per trillion — can detect the cancer from smelling breath or the air above urine. Several institutions and research labs around the world are trying to replicate or improve on canine sniffing disease detection using digital technology to detect biomarkers in a patient’s breath. Since 2006, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has been working on the Na-Nose or Nano Artificial Nose with micro and nano-sensors utilized to detect lung and gastric cancer from human breath.

More recently Technion has been developing the SniffPhone, a smartphone sensor and application used with the Na-Nose technology specifically for detecting gastric cancer. This technology has specific interest to me because I have biannual endoscopies to determine if I have developed stomach cancer due to high levels of gastric acid in my stomach. I can handle the endoscopies, but it sure would be easier just to breathe into a sensor. The efficacy of the SniffPhone depends on gastric tumors having a distinctive “breathprint” different from other diseases or healthy breath.

The SniffPhone is still in development, but the time seems near when annual physicals include breathing into a device like the Sniffphone to screen for not just cancers but other diseases as well as research into breathprint “signatures” continues.