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Ultra-sensitive breath tests aim to identify disease

Ultra-sensitive breath tests aim to identify disease

By JEFFREY GOLD
Associated Press Writer

August 20, 2005, 9:43 AM EDT

NEWARK, N.J. -- Breath tests aren't just for drunken drivers anymore.

They now can help determine if a heart transplant is being rejected and potentially will cut down on the number of biopsies transplant patients must endure.

The new test was developed by a New Jersey researcher, Dr. Michael Phillips, who expects his patient-friendly method will one day be used to detect lung cancer, breast cancer, kidney disease and diabetes.

And one day, he hopes, giving a breath sample will be as common as a blood or urine test.

"I could see a screening breath test as part of a routine medical exam," said Phillips, founder and CEO of Menssana Research Inc., which is based in Fort Lee and has its lab in Newark.

Experts caution, however, that while breath tests are a promising diagnostic technique, it does not appear that they will completely replace trusted methods such as biopsies and CT scans.

In the meantime, Phillips is looking to license a company to produce and market his Heartsbreath test to doctors and hospitals, since such a nationwide effort cannot be undertaken by his four-person firm.

Analyzing breath to diagnose disease is a concept that dates back two millennia, Phillips said, noting that ancient physicians found that a diabetic's breath smelled like rotten apples. And while a police Breathalyzer is designed to detect just one substance _ alcohol _ the acetone that causes diabetic breath is among the 200 compounds that the Heartsbreath technology can identify.

In addition, Phillips said, his technology can determine

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