The ability of breathalyzers to save immediately lives by preventing drunk driving is being extended in an elegant manner to provide a longer range sensing ability. Good country doctors have been able to diagnose a variety of conditions from strep throat to diabetes by smell for years (and reduce the need for expensive lab tests). I can envision these devices being placed in drug stores and other healthcare venues as a preliminary screening device. Perhaps a fasting period (and brushed teeth) would help reduce the incidence of false positives from unusual foods. In any case, the purpose of these devices would be to identify possible issues to check out under better controlled conditions.
The list of chemicals that the article gave - nitric oxide, ammonia, acetone, etc. - hardly seem like things that would be in your last meal and thus remaining in your mouth after eating. If they are looking for those kinds of chemical indicators then all they need to do is focus on whatever uniquely identifies them. That way it doesn't matter what others are present.
I wonder, though, what the risks associated with a false positive are? I would imagine that this would only be used as a screening device, and that more precise (and directed) tests would follow any indication of a problem.
That's a very good point. Using breath without suffienciently cleaning the mouth would require a massive database of chemical compounds present in various foods. I wonder if researchers are working on that.
"The problem with cats is training them to a consistent signal, rather than whatever they want to do."
If you can train a cat to do ANYTHING I'd be amazed.
There are already diabetic service dogs that are quite popular for type1 kids. The dog will alert on lows or highs. If a dog can smell and sense this then the researchers are on the correct trail. Now how to have Fido tell us what he smells!
Ditto! This is a much welcome development. To measure 0.8 ppm, the accuracy needs to be smaller than 0.08ppm or 0.008ppm depending on the accuracy in decimals need for a particular measurement; and the noise figure needs to be far less than this. I am sure nanowires-based sensors are capable of measuring to this accuracy but I don't know at what cost!
Further, the disposable versions of these types of sensors have to find lower-cost fabrication methods which is where the researchers like those cited above need to be sponsored.
There have definitely been cases of dogs detecting cancers, and I believe that cats have been shown to have similar abilities. (My own mother attributed her early detection of breast cancer to persistent behaviour by our cat.) The problem with cats is training them to a consistent signal, rather than whatever they want to do.)
"Data" is not the plural of "anecdote", but the more stories there are, the more plausible something becomes.
In some cases, particularly ketosis in diabetics, even the crude human schnoz can detect the condition. If your friend starts to smell of pear-drops, and becomes incoherent, get some sugar into them forthwith.