The University of MichiganNews Services
The University Record Online
Updated 10:00 AM April 10, 2006




view events

submit events

UM employment

police beat
regents round-up
research reporter


Advertise with Record

contact us
meet the staff
contact us
contact us

Breath could hold key to breast cancer detection

One of the biggest problems in fighting breast cancer is the lack of inexpensive, early detection diagnostic tools.

U-M researchers hope to change that by developing a device to test breath for the presence of metabolites associated with breast cancer. The team won a Breast Cancer Research Program Idea award, which funds promising, high-risk, high reward research proposals that could lead to critical advancements in eradicating breast cancer.

"We are very excited about getting this grant without having had too much real exposure to breast cancer research," says Joerg Lahann, assistant professor of chemical engineering and principal investigator. Lahann's team will be funded $446,731 over three years by the Department of Defense.

The cornerstone of the device is switchable surface technology developed in Lahann's lab while he was a postdoctoral student at MIT. Together with Professor Robert Langer, they published their findings in the journal Science in 2003. Lahann came to U-M in 2003 and his lab is extending the technology into applications.

The proposal states that switchable surfaces have molecularly designed sites that will attract certain metabolites indicative of breast cancer. These sites actually are little nanopockets about 6.4 nm2 in size that interact with oil and water. The metabolites also are very small and are attracted to the oil and water pockets.

The switchable surfaces can be engineered to stand up or lie down—imagine blades of tall grass before a strong wind blows them flat. The surfaces switch when electrical charges are applied to make the straight particles bend. When upright the spaces between the particles are open and will attract metabolites.

Theoretically a woman could breathe into an over-the-counter device and cancer-indicating metabolites would be attracted to the nanopockets, thus causing the pored surface to fill and become dense. Then an electrical charge would be applied so the straight particles would bend, ejecting the metabolites to allow for multiple tests to be done in the same device. Metabolites can be detected through a change in conductance or optically.

The idea materialized when graduate student David Pang discovered two papers that showed certain metabolites that could mark breast cancer are present in breath and urine.

"We realized that if one could put these molecules in a screening platform, they might develop a non-invasive, quick and inexpensive over-the-counter breast cancer screening test," says Lahann, who also has appointments in biomedical engineering, materials science and engineering, and macromolecular science and engineering.

More Stories