Smartphone usage to improve our well-being and preserve our health is spreading and increasingly diversifying. From pedometers, e-doctors and menstrual cycle calendars to nutritional quizzes and health check-ups, applications and connected objects help monitor our body’s states and optimize our quality of life. An immediate clinical diagnosis from a mobile phone could revolutionize connected health and preventive medical self-monitoring: this is the ambition behind the SniffPhone, presented in this article.
The Origins of the SniffPhone
The SniffPhone is a mobile phone module that can analyze the user’s breath and detect up to 17 diseases. This preliminary screening helps the doctor decide whether it is necessary to undergo treatment or to carry out additional diagnostic tests. Several academic and industrial organizations are participating in the development of this project funded by Horizon 2020, the largest research and innovation program in the European Union: (EU) :
- Technion : Israel Institute of Technology
- SIEMENS AG Corporate Technology
- VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
- University of Innsbruck
- University of Latvia
- microfluidic ChipShop Gmbh
- Cellix Limited
- JLM Innovation GmbH
The SniffPhone idea goes back to the work of Hossam Haick, professor at the Israel Institute of Technology, on the chemical composition of odor molecules as part of his studies on cancer detection techniques. His research led to the development of an unprecedented medical device that provides rapid, early and simple diagnosis (compared to tomography devices) of lung cancer.
This innovation, called Na-Nose, detects the presence of streptococci in the human breath, which can indicate the presence of several diseases like lung cancer, angina, meningitis, etc. Since these biomarkers (streptococci) are part of the normal human and animal flora, their detection must be combined with a chemical composition analysis of the breath through algorithms in the device. The device is the result of a collaboration between Technion and Breathtec Biomedical. The Na-Nose diagnosis is almost infallible. For example, the imprint of stomach cancer in the breath is unique compared to other diseases.
Project and Scientific Objectives for the SniffPhone
With the SniffPhone, the Na-Nose technology will move from the medical laboratory to personal use at home. The main technological objectives are to miniaturize the device, simplify its use and ensure information transmission to the general practitioner.
The connected module will be equipped with highly sensitive chemical sensors, based on nanomaterials, which react to the patient’s breath. The results will be stored and pre-processed by an integrated electronic microfluidic chip. The chemical information, translated into relevant electrical signals, will be transferred via the internet from the mobile phone to an external server. If the data show signs of illness, the physician will be notified.
The scientific objectives behind the SniffPhone, in the development of a first module that detects stomach cancer, are:
- To develop a miniaturized breath collector that catches breath samples at a distance of 5 to 10 cm, to avoid contact between the mouth and the device. An important part of this objective is to define and quantify the different parts of a single breath sample, in order to determine which one best represents the health status of the person (for example: the first 5 ml collected, the last 8 ml collected, etc.).
- To determine and optimize the typical volatile organic compound (VOC) profiles of stomach cancer according to the environment of the collected sample (interior versus exterior) and exhaling rate using real-time spectrometry methods.
- To develop an efficient process for the manufacture and integration of VOC sensors based on carbon nanotubes. A complementary part to producing the sensors is to ensure a reliable analysis of the signals and implement automatic learning to detect, with minimal error, the presence of cancerous VOCs in breath samples, which are of great chemical complexity.
- To conduct clinical studies on the effectiveness of the device in capturing cancer VOC, even in the presence of other distracting signals.
The SniffPhone will bring substantial progress in healthcare by enabling early disease detection. Widespread access to this technology will help avoid unnecessary consultations and reduce overcrowding in health facilities.