Breathalyzer in development to detect diseases

David Williams reports.

- Could your breath tell doctors if you have a particular disease, before it’s too late?  When you hear the word "breathalyzer," you think flashing lights and alcohol, but, based on research at the University of Florida, a new Gainesville start-up wants to use the simple technology to save your life.

Dr. Richard Yost is a UF Professor of Chemistry and Head of analytical chemistry, as well as the Director, Southeast Center for Integrated metabolomics. He is also the BreathTech Scientific advisor.  "I think it would be cool if, when you go in for your physical, the physician hands you a device the size of a cell phone and says ‘breathe into this,’” He said.

Dr. Yost also helped create BreathTec. It's a company started by his former student, Dr. Michael Costanzo. They are developing technology that can detect disease by just exhaling.  “Then, he looks at the screen and says ‘Oh, I think we should check you for lung cancer or whatever. That would be a very powerful tool.” Yost said.

It doesn't stop there. The device would also detect Parkinson's, pneumonia and other lung infections by what you can't see in your breath.  “The concept that we’re using is to measure biomarkers, molecules that could be indicative of a disease, in this case in human breath," Yost said.

Right now, it’s about the size of a desk. Dr. Yost said they hope to get the product down to about the size of a cell phone. He says one day it could save lives.  The idea started as a student project at Uf 6 years ago. Now, UF holds a patent for the technology.  A Canadian investor just got on board too. That is expected to bring the vision closer to reality. 

“Certainly if you can catch diseases earlier, treatment could me more effective. It could have a significant impact on human health," Yost said.  "I think it could help save people’s lives."

Dr. Yost said we’re probably at least five years away from seeing it in doctors’ offices.

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