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Mr Haick, What Does Our Breath Tell You About Our Health?

It is possible to smell disease. This is nothing new, the Greek philosopher Hippocrates already worked on the same hypothesis. But it took more than 2,000 years for science to come up with tangible proof. The Arab-Israeli researcher Hossam Haick has now presented the evidence: he has shown that many diseases have a smell all of their own.

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  • Text: Kristin Hüttmann
Saturn-ähnliches Dekortationsbild

Biomedical scientist  Professor Dr Hossam Haick from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa is a Humboldt Research Award Winner cooperating with the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz.


Hossam Haick

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The challenge in analysing breath is to create a kind of fingerprint of the breath,” says Haick. “And to differentiate between the components that are normal and the ones that indicate disease.” To do so, Haick and his colleagues use nanosensors made of gold and carbon which trace a certain pattern of volatile organic compounds (VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds) in human breath. They have managed to identify the breathprints of 17 diseases, including certain early stages of cancer. Based on nanotechnology, Haick has given this electronic nose the moniker “NaNose”. It is already in use in research and Haick hopes his “NaNose” will one day revolutionise the diagnosis of disease.

“Our technology is designed to help detect diseases easily and cheaply and, above all, at a very early stage,” he explains. His ambitious goal is to scale down the technology until it fits into a smartphone. A prototype “sniffphone” has already been built, but it will take years before it reaches market maturity.



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