One innovation links bad breath, kidney failure

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Thanks for a new sensor developed by researchers at the University of Illinois, bad breath can a blessing when it comes to diagnosing kidney failure. Published in Advanced Functional Materials, researchers' findings outline the sensor's development and how it is able to diagnose kidney failure.

Made of a small, thin organic plastic, the sensor is able to identify disease markers in a patient’s breath or a building’s air. The portable devices is able to detect the lowest levels of ammonia in a patient’s breath which is often a sign of kidney failure.

"In the clinical setting, physicians use bulky instruments, basically the size of a big table, to detect and analyze these compounds. We want to hand out a cheap sensor chip to patients so they can use it and throw it away," said Ying Diao, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois. "We developed this method to directly print tiny pores into the device itself so we can expose these highly reactive sites. By doing so, we increased the reactivity by ten times and can sense down to one part per billion."

In demonstrating the device, researchers monitored the change in ammonia concentration in a patient’s breath to identify early signs of kidney failure and subsequently notify a physician for a kidney function test. In further experiments with the device, researchers hope to change the makeup of the sensor to detect other compounds such as formaldehyde.

"We would like to be able to detect multiple compounds at once, like a chemical fingerprint," Diao said. "It's useful because in disease conditions, multiple markers will usually change concentration at once. By mapping out the chemical fingerprints and how they change, we can more accurately point to signs of potential health issues."