Our bodies are chemical engines. It stands to reason that we should be able to deduce all sorts of useful information about our health status simply by considering the types and quantities of different chemicals in our bodies: biomarkers. Doctors routinely sample blood to monitor its chemical composition, but this is an invasive procedure. Non-invasive methods are being developed, such as those that sample the chemicals found in our breath.

Researchers at the Australian National University (ANU) in conjunction with teams in Australia and Sweden have developed a tiny gas sensor that is about 50 times smaller than a human hair. They are fabricated on chips and rely on pulses of light to trigger measurements. They operate at room temperatures, and are sensitive to extremely small concentrations of the target gas. They are so sensitive that they can even detect gas biomarkers that escape through the skin. The result is a sensor system that could easily incorporated into wearable devices, including a smart watch. It is possible that these sensors could eventually reduce or even eliminate the need for many blood tests.

Technology advances such as these expand the possibilities of routine monitoring of health status, providing early detection of a wide range of diseases and conditions. This in turn could lead to faster and more effective treatments, with better outcomes, that will save lives and reduce healthcare costs.