Using your smartphone to sniff out disease (Day 271)

noseThe fight against disease is time dependent. The earlier the diagnosis, the greater the chance of survival.

Cutting-edge work, using smell as a means of disease detection, suggests that our smartphones may be the future of early diagnosis.

A research consortium lead by Professor Hossam Haick at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is developing a device that, when linked to a smartphone, will be able to screen the user’s breath for the detection of life-threatening diseases.

Hossam is a member of the Technion Faculty of Chemical Engineering and a researcher at the Technion’s Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. In 2008, he was named as one of the MIT Technology Review’s Innovators under 35 for the creation of his electronic ‘nose’, which was designed to detect odours released by various cancerous tumours within the body.

mobile phonesThis new project, the SNIFFPHONE, will draw upon Hossam’s work with his electronic nose to create a link to smartphone technology. This is potentially revolutionary as it could offer a non-invasive, fast and cheap method of detecting serious diseases.

The device works by using micro- and nano-sensors that read exhaled breath (like a breathalyser), the readings are then transferred to an information processor on the phone. Once transferred, the data can be then by analysed by an app to diagnose diseases.

The research consortium includes Siemens, an Israeli company, NanoVation-GS, and universities and research institutes from Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Latvia.

NanoVation-GS is a spin-out from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology led by Dr. Gregory Shuster and Sagi Gliksman, both of whom graduated from Hossam’s group, with Hossam serving as Chief Scientific Officer.

To help expand this technology, the consortium also received a European Union grant of approximately UK £4.4 million.

The aim of the project is to use this technology to identify individuals within the general population who have a higher likelihood of contracting a specific disease. This would give doctors a chance to treat them at an early stage or even in advance of illness.

Prof. Hossam Haick
Photo Credit |The Technion’s Spokesperson’s Office
Prof. Hossam Haick

“The SNIFFPHONE is a winning solution. It will be made tinier and cheaper than disease detection solutions currently, consume little power, and most importantly, it will enable immediate and early diagnosis that is both accurate and non-invasive,” says Hossam. “Early diagnosis can save lives, particularly in life-threatening diseases such as cancer.”

I have to commend Hossam and the rest of the consortium for all their innovative work. The success of this SNIFFPHONE project could have implications for us all; showing just how much chemical engineering matters.


If you have an idea for a new device, why not get in touch and tells us about your idea.

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