'Electronic sniffer' that can also identify kidney disease

Award-winning Israeli scientist's nanotechnology-based device could greatly improve survival rates via early diagnosis.

cancer cell 88 (photo credit: )
cancer cell 88
(photo credit: )
A chemical engineer at the Technion who was named one of the world's 35 top young scientists after developing a device that can detect cancers by "sniffing out" biomarkers, has now discovered that it can also be used to discover the presence of kidney disease. It will "require a long and tiring path" to reach the target of diagnosis of kidney disease early enough to delay kidney failure and dialysis, says Dr. Hossam Haick, since 2006 a senior lecturer in chemical engineering, whose electronic "nose" can diagnose cancer in just two or three minutes by analyzing a patient's breath. Raised in Nazareth, Haick, 34, received his bachelor's of science from Ben-Gurion University and doctorate from the Technion; he spent two years at the Weizmann Institute of Science and later pursued post-doctoral research at the equally prestigious California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he did much of the work leading to the device. He currently holds the position of senior lecturer in the Technion Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the university's Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute. Last year, Haick was chosen for inclusion in a list known as the "TR35" from more than 300 nominees by a panel of expert judges and editorial staff at Technology Review, the magazine of innovation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previous TR35 lists have included Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. Haick is the first Israeli scientist to win the European Union's Marie Curie Excellence Grant; he was also honored by the president of France with the France-Israel Foundation Prize for Excellence in Science and received a Fulbright fellowship. When a malignant tumor develops in the body, its cells produce chemicals, called biomarkers, that circulate in the blood or urine. They cross from the blood into the lungs, where they are exhaled in minute amounts. Haick's artificial olfactory device detects cancer by "sniffing out" these molecules. The device is comprised of nano-sized chemical sensors that can detect cancer in a person's breath, which could greatly improve survival rates via critical early diagnoses. So far, Haick can identify lung, breast and colon cancer and started testing the electronic nose at the oncology division of Haifa's Rambam Medical Center. The person to be screened exhales into the electronic nose comprised of nanometric sensors, and the device can detect if there is a malignancy and, sometimes, what type. The developer hopes that the finished device will be the size of a cellular phone and cheap. It would not only allow doctors to detect tumors early, but may even be able to pinpoint the location of the cancer in the body, just as a pointer dog identifies animals that hunters are looking for. The fact that the electronic nose can be also used to detect kidney disease was reported in the latest issue of the journal ACS Nano. Identifying patients, including type II diabetics, with kidney disease when it has just begun is important, because by the time symptoms occur, it may be too late to save them, and dialysis to clean the blood can cost NIS 300,000 per year per patient. Once the first signs of kidney disease are detected, the patient will be able to get medications and change his diet to slow its development to kidney failure, Haick said. The idea to try the electronic nose on kidney disease was raised in a conversation between Haick and Prof. Zaid Abassi, along with Prof. Farid Nahoul of the Technion's Rappaport Medical Faculty and Rambam. They said that malodorous urea is released in the breath of patients with advanced kidney disease. The team created kidney disease in rats and used Haick's electronic nose. They found that the device detected all cases that were confirmed by blood and urine tests. It also detected 27 other substances in the breath of the sick rats - but not in healthy rats - that could make the detection even more exact. Among these, they identified only five that are the best indicators that kidney disease has begun. The team has registered a patent for the discovery and the changes in the electronic nose that were needed for their kidney research.