Cancer is a devastating killer that takes one out of every eight lives on the planet. While cancer treatments have improved over the years, one key to battling the disease is early detection, which has historically been invasive, painful or hit-and-miss. That’s why the latest research from a group of Swiss and Japanese scientists is so exciting: working together, these scientists have created a surprising new way to catch cancer that is as simple as taking a breath.
Genki Yoshikawa at the National Institute of Materials Science in Japan, Frederic Loizeau from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Hans Peter Lang at the University of Basel in Switzerland and their colleagues worked together to create a sensor that is able to detect head and neck cancer using breath analysis. Previously, cantilevers with a chemical layer coating could absorb compounds which would deflect the cantilevers, but this system wasn’t sensitive enough to detect cancer. So scientists figured out a way to make the system much more sensitive using nano-chemical sensors in what is known as a membrane-type surface stress sensor (MSS).
The improved MSS was presented at the 26th IEEE International Conference on Micro Electro Mechanical Systems and in a double-blind trial, the scientists were able to accurately detect four cancer patients from four healthy patients using the new system. The units are easily portable and work as a sort of mobile nose to sniff out cancer in its early stages, potentially saving lives and alleviating some of the uncertainty when diagnosing cancer.