The breathalyzer has been used to determine if a person has been drinking. What if a new type could also detect certain diseases?

UW-Madison researchers have developed technology that can distinguish between normal exhaled air and air that has been altered by disease.

The research has been published online in the journal Metabolism, according to a news release from UW-Madison.

Many diseases, including diabetes, cancer and infections, alter the body's metabolism in distinctive ways. The new research shows those biochemical changes can be detected much sooner, offering hope for early disease detection and diagnosis.

UW-Madison biochemist and scientist Fariba Assadi-Porter, lead author of the research, said the method could lead to cheaper, faster and more sensitive methods of diagnosis.

Researchers were able to detect distinct metabolic change in mice by using a single atom of the isotope carbon-13 to measure a change in the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in the carbon dioxide exhaled by the mice.

That discovery was applied to the changes in carbon isotopes that shows up in exhaled carbon dioxide when the body changes its fuel source from the food we eat when healthy to the antibodies formed inside when we are sick.

That shift in fuel, from sugars to proteins, uses different biochemical pathways in the body, resulting in distinct changes in the carbon isotopes that show up in exhaled carbon dioxide.

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If detected quickly, the changes may signal the earliest stages of disease.

The news release said the researchers have formed a company, Isomark LLC, to develop the technology and its applications.