In the future, it may become possible for an individual to easily check
their health by connecting a sensor to a smartphone or other device.
There are also hopes that the nation's growing medical expenditures
could be curbed by the early detection of disease.
Institute for Materials Science (NIMS), based in Tsukuba, Ibaraki
Prefecture, played the leading role in developing the small sensor,
which is capable of detecting substances in a person's exhalations with
high accuracy by analysing the odour of the breath.
To put this
technology into practical use, the institute has been working with
Kyocera Corp., NEC Corp., Sumitomo Seika Chemicals Co., Osaka University
and a precision equipment maker in Switzerland.
installed in the sensor, which is a tiny chip a few millimetres square,
determines whether there are substances peculiar to cancer patients'
breath and calculates whether a person is suspected to have cancer. By
just exhaling into the sensor, which is connected to a smartphone or
other device, the result can be displayed on the screen of the device in
a graph or other form.
According to NIMS, it is highly likely
that the sensor will be able to distinguish what kind of cancer a person
has if the sensor's accuracy is improved and data on odour are
Peculiar odours are said to be found in the respiration
of patients who are suffering from diabetes, kidney and liver diseases,
asthma and those with Helicobacter pylori. The sensor may make it
possible to judge what kind of diseases people have, and is being
considered for use not only for examinations at medical institutions but
also for self-checks by individuals.
The sensor costs a few
hundred yen to make and can be produced in large quantities. It is
expected to take about six years to develop it for practical use, as it
is necessary to collect data on the odours associated with various
cancers, improve the sensor's precision and have it certified as medical
equipment by the government, according to sources.
Cancer is the
leading cause of death among Japanese people, with nearly 400,000 people
dying each year. According to a 2014 survey by the Cabinet Office, the
medical examination rate for cancer screening in Japan is about 40
percent - said to be about half that in the United States and some
Major reasons cited for not receiving cancer
screening in the survey were having no time; the cost involved; and
feeling uneasy about pain. Examinations of people's exhalations would
likely improve the medical examination rate. However, it would still be
necessary for people to undergo further examinations at medical
institutions to confirm whether they have a disease.
Medical School Prof. Masao Miyashita, an expert on digestive surgery and
cancer, said: "It'll be epoch-making if such a simple examination of
exhalations becomes widely available."
Research on diagnosing
various diseases through exhalations started in Europe and the United
States more than 10 years ago, and the research has attracted attention
in Japan in recent years.
A group of researchers, including some
at Kyushu University, submitted a report to a British medical journal in
2011 stating that cancer patients have peculiar odors in their
respiration that can be detected by a dog specially trained to sniff out
the exhalations of cancer patients.
Also, researchers at Juntendo
University are studying a method of identifying esophageal cancer
patients through their exhalations.
© 2016 The Japan News