The National Science Foundation recently awarded Yuze Alice Sun from the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) a $400,369 grant for the three-year development of a handheld device that is designed to examine patients’ breath in order to identify the presence of dangerous gases. Even though the device aims to improve prevention of respiratory diseases, it may also have environmental and security-related uses as well.
The assistant professor of electrical engineering is developing a nanoscale gas chromatography tool, as she explained in a recent UTA press release, which is able to differentiate vapors within the human breath as well as in a room or open area, and it “can separate up to hundreds of vapors in complex samples and identify the ones that could be used as chemical markers,” Sun said. “Many devices like this are large and don’t always have separation capabilities to provide detection specificity.”
“This is a very hot area, personalized medicine,” said the electrical engineering professor and co-principal investigator on the project, Weidong Zhou, who believes that the device’s most interesting application is in the healthcare arena. “The device can target a person’s individual healthcare needs and will have the power to detect very, very low vapor concentration because the sensors are extremely sensitive.”
Regarding the device medical applications, it may particularly help diabetics, as it is able to detect a series of vapors specific to those with diabetes that are exhaled through the breath. “Eventually, our goal is to non-invasively monitor a person’s blood sugar level instead of having that diabetic prick their finger to do a blood test,” Sun added.
“While the focus of this research is on respiratory gas analysis, it can potentially have other applications such as assessing whether air for breathing is healthy in confined populated areas such as public transportation vehicles and airplanes,” explained Khosrow Behbehani, the dean of the College of Engineering, who believes it is a promising research project with applications in several areas.
In addition to having healthcare applications, there are also environmental and security uses for the device, according to Sun. At a home, the device could be used to identify allergens or toxic chemicals, while firefighters could find it useful to ascertain whether there are combustable accelerants present at the scene of a fire. Moreover, homeland security may also benefit from it, as the device is also able to identify the presence of explosives inside luggage or on a person.