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Diagnosing lung cancer in exhaled breath using gold nanoparticles


Conventional diagnostic methods for lung cancer1,2 are unsuitable for widespread screening2,3 because they are expensive and occasionally miss tumours. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry studies have shown that several volatile organic compounds, which normally appear at levels of 1–20 ppb in healthy human breath, are elevated to levels between 10 and 100 ppb in lung cancer patients4,5,6. Here we show that an array of sensors based on gold nanoparticles can rapidly distinguish the breath of lung cancer patients from the breath of healthy individuals in an atmosphere of high humidity. In combination with solid-phase microextraction7, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry was used to identify 42 volatile organic compounds that represent lung cancer biomarkers. Four of these were used to train and optimize the sensors, demonstrating good agreement between patient and simulated breath samples. Our results show that sensors based on gold nanoparticles could form the basis of an inexpensive and non-invasive diagnostic tool for lung cancer.

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Figure 1: Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analysis of healthy and lung cancer breath.
Figure 2: Illustration of the diagnosis of lung cancer using breath testing.
Figure 3: Typical responses of the chemiresistors to real breath samples.
Figure 4: Principal component analysis (PCA) of the dataset of real and simulated breath.


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The research was funded by the Marie Curie Excellence Grant of the European Commission's FP6 program (grant no. 1006752), the Alfred Mann Institute (grant no. 1007920), the Israel Cancer Association (grant no. 2009837) and the Technion's Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (grant no. 76517704/14). We thank E. Dovgolevsky, O. Marom, C. Attalah and I. Dvorkind for assistance. H.H. holds the Horev Chair for Leaders in Science and Technology.

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Authors and Affiliations



H.H. conceived and designed the experiments. G.P. fabricated the sensors, performed the sensing experiments and analysed the pertinent data. O.A. conducted the synthesis and characterization of gold nanoparticles. M.H. conducted the GC-MS experiments. N.Sh. and U.B. collected the breath samples and investigated the effect of clinical characteristics of healthy volunteers. S.B., R.A.-B. and A.K. obtained the volunteers and diagnosed them clinically. U.T. and H.H. analysed the data and wrote the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Hossam Haick.

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Peng, G., Tisch, U., Adams, O. et al. Diagnosing lung cancer in exhaled breath using gold nanoparticles. Nature Nanotech 4, 669–673 (2009).

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