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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Sniffing out disease

electronic nose

Within a few years, it will be possible to breathe into a portable medical device to find out if you have diseases such as cancer or kidney disease - and to determine its exact type so that doctors can better target treatment. This revolutionary non-invasive invention is the brainchild of a celebrated Israeli-Arab chemical engineer at theRussell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Dubbed NA NOSE (for nano-artificial nose), Prof.
Hossam Haick's device is in the early stages of being readied for commercialization through the Alfred Mann Institute of the Technion, a philanthropic fund to advance biomedical ideas originating at the university.
Haick's "aha" moment was a conversation with two specialists who said that patients with diseased kidneys typically have ammonia-scented breath. For the past six years, he and his team have been perfecting an inexpensive sensor that sniffs out disease biomarkers passing from the bloodstream to the lungs and out through the breath.

Beyond simply showing that someone has a disease, NA-NOSE can pinpoint the particulars. "In the last two years, we achieved good advances in discrimination between lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancer and we have shown an ability to distinguish between head and neck cancers and lung cancers," says Haick. 

If physicians know exactly what subtype of cancer is present, they can target treatments accordingly, resulting in fewer side effects and greater overall success. "In the case of breast cancer, we have shown that we can distinguish not just between sick and healthy women, but we can subcategorise between women with no tumors, malignant tumors and benign tumors," says Haick. 

 Most studies have been done at the Technion in collaboration with Haifa's Rambam Health Care Campus and the Technion's Rappaport Medical School. The lung cancer study also has been carried out in collaboration with the University of Colorado. 

Raised in Nazareth, internationally renowned

A product of Israel's northern Arab-Christian community in Nazareth, Haick was named one of 35 top scientists in the world in 2008 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Technology Review, and last year appeared on the Calcalist list of "Ten Most Promising Young Israeli Scientists" and the Jerusalem Post "Young Israelis of the Year" list.

The winner of more than 40 international prizes, Haick most recently received the Knight of the Order of Academic Palms from the French government, a respected civilian decoration established in 1808 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Educated in Israel, it was during post-doctorate studies at the California Institute of Technology that Haick first worked with electronic noses. He now lives in Haifa with his wife, a chemist and food engineer at the Israeli Ministry of Health.

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