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A handheld breath analyser to monitor metabolism and oral hygiene

Breath analysis is of increasing interest for health and metabolic monitoring but it is performed only in medical laboratories. A revolutionary handheld device that measures metabolic compounds in breath promises to accurately evaluate our exercise and nutrition routine in the comfort of one’s home.

Digital Economy
Health

People are increasingly interested in the impact food and exercise has on their health, weight and wellbeing. They employ cardio-watches and smart scales to monitor their exercise, weight and nutrition regimen, often without the desired results. Having a look at an individual’s metabolism, in particular certain metabolic markers related to fat-burning, may help evaluate and adjust one’s training routine.

Gas chromatography for breath analysis

To address this issue, the EU-funded Breath_Intelligence project developed a handheld device based on simplified gas chromatography, with the capability to rapidly scan for multiple breath compounds. “The idea was to develop a multifunctional tool for personalised breath analysis, which allows a more holistic view of a person’s metabolism,″ explains CEO of MICROSENS and administrative director of the project Dr Alain Grisel. The device combines a highly sensitive gas sensor with a micro-fabricated gas separation column the diameter of a human hair. As the sample travels through the column, the different gaseous compounds interact with the column lining and get separated, reaching the sensor at different times. Breath_Intelligence has the capacity to separate gaseous compounds present in the human breath in less than two minutes. It provides a ‘breath print’ of several key compounds unique to each individual. Partners are focusing on the measurement of various metabolism-related biomarkers, such as acetone, ammonia, ethyl alcohol, sulfuric compounds and hydrogen. The device has been tested in the monitoring of the bad breath condition halitosis in a study conducted in collaboration with the dental facility of the Basel University hospital, where Breath_Intelligence performed as well as specialised halitosis measurement systems. These results urged partners to extend device applications towards the monitoring of metabolic markers in the breath.

The merits of Breath_Intelligence

During the project, which was supported by funding from SME Instrument Phase 1, MICROSENS undertook a technological miniaturisation of the prototype, resulting in a compact system with improved performance and a more user-friendly interface. “The creation and combination of miniature parts into a handheld device for breath analysis is undoubtedly the biggest achievement of the project,″ emphasises project coordinator Dr Ulrike Lehmann. Existing solutions for breath analysis can only measure very few pre-determined compounds, with breath alcohol or food odours often interfering with system performance. Compared with existing technologies, the Breath_Intelligence measurement system is highly versatile and selective. The selectivity is achieved through the chromatography micro-column, and the highly sensitive gas sensor. The Breath_Intelligence system permits the detection of multiple breath compounds from a single sample. The modular design makes it possible to increase system functionality. Future collaborations with different sport institutions, fitness practices and nutrition consulting organisations will validate the device for additional applications. Project partners are confident that the unique features of the Breath_Intelligence device will meet the needs of people interested in personal health monitoring and wellbeing to design personalised healthy nutrition and exercise regimens. Following manufacturing cost analysis, project partners have established a business model, with the device launch in the market slated for 2022.

Keywords

Breath_Intelligence, breath analysis, handheld device, metabolism, gas chromatography, sensor, oral hygiene, halitosis, acetone

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