For years, police departments around the world have been using breathzlizer tests to determine a person’s blood alcohol levels. In the not-too-distant future, your doctor will be using similar breath testing to diagnose cancer and predict obesity.
Scientists in Israel have produced a test that, with better-than-90 percent accuracy, can identify which patients with stomach complaints have stomach cancer and which have something less serious. The tests are also just as accurate at telling which of the cancers are in their early stages, and which are late-stage. The study analyzed breath results from 130 patients, all of whom had had endoscopy to diagnose a variety of stomach issues. Thirty-seven had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, 32 had ulcers, and the rest (61) had minor stomach complaints.
This test, developed by Hossam Haick, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute, at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, uses nanomaterial sensors to analyze tiny molecules of disease biomarkers. Haick and his team used similar nanosensors to distinguish patients with several other cancers from cancer-free, healthy patients. The study was published in the British Journal of Cancer.
The researchers hope that their breath test will be a faster, cheaper, less painful, and less invasive, alternative to endoscopy (a procedure where a doctor inserts a tool through the patient’s throat to examine—and sometimes treat—digestive-tract problems). This is especially important because, according to experts, only 20 percent of patients with stomach cancer are able to have surgery, since by the time most cancers are diagnosed, they’re already too advanced. One of the biggest problems is that the symptoms of early stage-cancer are often identical to the symptoms of less-serious conditions (stomach ache, indigestion, heartburn, for example).
Using somewhat lower-tech means, researchers at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles discovered that weight gain and obesity may be the result of an imbalance of hydrogen and methane in the body. Those with high concentrations of both of those gases had a higher BMI and more body fat than those with lower levels.
The culprit seems to be a microorganism called Methanobrevibacter smithii or M smithii, which produces most of the methane we humans generate. “Usually, the microorganisms living in the digestive tract benefit us by helping convert food into energy,” said Ruchi Mathur, lead author of the study. “However, when … M. smithii becomes overabundant, it may alter this balance in a way that causes someone to be more likely to gain weight.” Apparently, what’s happening is that people with an imbalance of hydrogen and methane are able to “harvest” more calories from their food than those of us who have the proper balance. The result of that extra digestive efficiency? Well, more calories means more weight gain.
This study was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.