Detecting Cancer by Analyzing Breath


The lecture was given by representatives of University of Rome Tor Vergata, professor Corrado Di Natale, co-head of International Research Center Artificial Sensing Systems and his colleague, PhD in Chemistry, Roberto Paolesse.

The results of many long-term research projects have shown that presence of cancer cells in lungs affects the composition of volatile organic compounds and metabolites that are formed during human breathing. Presumably metabolites caused by cancer cells` activity first of all dissolve in blood and then appear in lungs as gaseous substances. Thus one can provide early detection of various diseases by analyzing volatile organic compounds appearing in breathing passages.

Professor Corrado Di Natale

However while providing this analyzing the researchers met some difficulties. Firstly, there are no some standardized requirements for this type of research. For providing these experiments different equipment and samples are usually used, which significantly affects the results. Secondly, molecules containing cancer components resemble unaffected products of metabolism or molecules affected by other diseases. That is why the Italian researchers started to research all volatile organic compounds appeared in lungs as oppose to separate molecules.

For providing this research the scientists have developed sensors based on porphyrin and quartz resonator called electronic nose. The molecules stand on porphyrin, which becomes heavier. Thanks to this and also to various chemical reactions one can detect the composition of volatile organic compounds. For sampling purposes the researchers used bronchoscopic probe.

Professor Roberto Paolesse

It took a lot of time to determine bio-elements that identify cancer. However researchers from all over the world have not reached the agreement about which of them should be taking into account. Professors Corrado Di Natale and Roberto Paolesse analyzed volatile organic compounds taken from lungs of healthy people and patients suffering from cancer. Using gas chromatography analysis the researchers provided breaking down of components to determine mass-to-charge ratio. However the results given from research of healthy and cancer-affected samples were almost the same.

To solve this problem the scientists applied so-called electronic nose, which helped them to come to the following point: volatile compounds that identify cancer cells appear as a result of oxidative stress.

The diagnosis method based on volatile organic compounds may be applied for detecting other fatal diseases because these compounds are leaked through skin and also appear in urine.