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Fall 2003

FEORC, FDA Hold Workshop On Sensors for Breath Analysis

Department fiber optics researchers cosponsored a workshop this spring with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding the development of fiber and electronic sensors for breath analysis. The sensors would measure respiratory function, diagnose disease states, and determine the effectiveness of drug treatment.

In addition to Tech and the FDA, attendees represented Rice University, Johns Hopkins, Arete Associates, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), Instrumental Solutions, NemoSonic, Tel-Aviv University, and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).

Monitoring Breathing & Analyzing Breath Chemicals
Department researchers in the Fiber and Electro-Optics Research Center (FEORC) have been pursuing advances in breath analysis for several years, according to director Rick Claus. One project involves using fiber sensors as a simple pulmonary diagnostic tool to monitor breathing rates and lung oxygen levels. Another effort expands the technology to chemical breath analysis. "We are trying to detect the signature of different diseases," he explained. "For example, an old dog about to die might exhale a combination of target chemicals, which can be measured. What ever happens in the body produces metabolic byproducts, which are exhaled in the breath."

Conventional chemical analysis of breath involves collecting condensate from a bag that a patient breathes into, then sending it through laboratory analysis, Claus explained. "This typically takes about a day. We are working to develop sensors that can give accurate analysis in less than a few minutes," he added.

Developing Optical Chemical Sensors
FEORC first became interested in the technology after an serendipitous discovery in the laboratory. Claus described that a visiting Ph.D. student from Spain, Patxi Arregui, was processing a fiber for a sensor. Instead of flowing nitrogen gas across the fiber to remove water droplets, he tried blowing on it. His oscilloscope showed that the fiber responded to the chemicals in his breath. FEORC expanded on the discovery and has developed low-cost optically-based humidity sensors and sensors to measure and analyze pulmonary functions for both human and veterinary environments.

A CD was develop from the FEORC/FDA workshop and is available by contacting Rick Claus at

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