New breath test could diagnose chronic disease and cancer


(CBS News) Dogs have long been known for their powerful noses and scientists are now trying to develop "electronic noses" to mimic this canine sense, in an effort to detect diseases. Dogs have been credited with sniffing out cancer with this super-sense and new medical breath tests are promising similar diagnostic capabilities.

 Scientists say that high-tech breath analyzers may soon be able to diagnose serious conditions -- from diabetes to lung cancer -- in just minutes. The diagnostic test would simply require exhaling -- no blood test, x-rays, or scans involved. 

 Dr. Peter Mazzone, the director of the lung cancer program at the Cleveland Clinic respiratory Institute, is currently experimenting with a breath test that changes color when a patient's breath passes over it. So far, he has been able to to distinguish those with lung cancer with 80 to 85 percent accuracy. 

Dr. Mazzone joined "CBS This Morning" on Wednesday to discuss the implications of his findings. Mazzone explained that chemicals in human breath are like "an exhaust," and that diseases cause different chemicals to be produced. "Our goal is to distinguish those different chemicals in our breath, the exhaust system of our body," he said.  

He added that breath test development is part of a broader effort within the medical community to develop non-invasive, less expensive diagnostic tests. He added that there are currently "no extremely accurate blood tests on the market" for lung cancer and called his preliminary results "quite good, but a ways away from being available." 

Mazzone also touched on the benefits of this kind of test, reiterating that it is non-invasive, "can be brought right to our patients, who might get test results in real time," and can be less expensive than scans and biopsies. Researchers are hopeful that breath tests will be able to diagnose liver and kidney disease, asthma, transplant rejection issues, diabetes, and cancer. Mazzone added "it may target different questions" than blood tests and said "it will have a niche and be more accurate within that niche."