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Researchers using new technology to study breath for toxins
Date:11/7/2011

Breathing. Anyone reading this article is doing it right now. But what chemicals are we breathing in, and out? A group of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researchers has published a paper in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that details how to learn just that, using microelectromechanical systems to focus on toxins and everyday impurities that enter the body through the air we intake.

The research paper, "The Possibilities Will Take Your Breath Away: Breath Analysis for Assessing Environmental Exposure," was written by Andrea Dietrich, professor with the Charles E. Via Jr. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Masoud Agah, associate professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with two graduate students, Heather Vereb, an environmental sciences and engineering graduate student originally from Pittsburgh, and Bassam Alfeeli, a graduate of the electrical and computer engineering department and native of Kuwait City, Kuwait, now an associate research scientist at Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research.

"Breathing reflects both what we inhale and what we metabolize," said Dietrich, who also has studied contamination of iron and other metals in drinking water and its effect on users, and the phantom metallic tastes experienced by cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy. "Toxins and non-toxins diffuse into the blood and then out of the body through breath."

The study of breath, including using odors of the mouth to determine an illness, is centuries old, and studies of exposure to benzene and other toxins via air have been ongoing since the 1970s. It also has been known for years that the body puts off naturally produced chemicals and odors when excited or fearful, hence the old and quite literal saying, "The smell of fear," said Dietrich.

But new technologies including hair-thin sorption devices found in microelectromechanical
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Contact: Steven Mackay
smackay@vt.edu
540-231-4787
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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