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Optical 'frequency comb' can detect the breath of disease
Date:2/19/2008

Exhale on a cold winter day and you will see the water vapor coming out of your mouth. Light up your breath with a Nobel-Prize-related tool, and you could potentially detect trace amounts of over 1,000 compounds, some of which provide early warning signs of disease. In a new paper,* a team led by Jun Ye, a physicist at JILA, a joint institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder, has demonstrated an optical technique for simultaneously identifying tiny amounts of a broad range of molecules in the breath, potentially enabling a fast, low-cost screening tool for disease.

It is exciting to imagine the potential of analyzing all major biomarkers in ones breath at once, says Ye. For example, nitric oxide can indicate asthma, but it also appears in breath with many other lung diseases, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cystic fibrosis and bronchiectasis. However, if we simultaneously monitor nitric oxide, carbon monoxide, hydro-peroxide, nitrites, nitrates, pentane, and ethane, all important biomarkers for asthma, we can be much more certain for a definitive diagnosis of this important disease.

Existing methods for detecting trace amounts of molecules from the breath are either bulky, slow, limited to specific molecules, unable to distinguish very well between multiple compounds or inaccurate at measuring their concentrations. In this new approach, the researchers analyze human breath with frequency combs, an optical tool cited in the 2005 Nobel Prize in Physics shared by JILA fellow Jan Hall. Frequency combs are generated by a laser specially designed to produce a series of very short, equally spaced pulses of light. Each pulse may be only a few millionth billionths of a second long. The laser generates light as a series of very narrow frequency peaks equally spaced, like the teeth of a comb, across a broad spectrum.

In the experiment, student volunteer
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Contact: Ben Stein
bstein@nist.gov
301-975-3097
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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Optical 'frequency comb' can detect the breath of disease
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