Technion - Israel Institute of Technology


The Electronic Nose of Prof. Hossam Haick of the Technion can also sniff out kidney diseases

 The electronic nose developed by Prof.. Hossam Haick of the Technion’s Faculty of Chemical Engineering and the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion, was originally intended for early detection of cancer. In the process of its development, it has become apparent that it is also able to identify kidney diseases. This was reported in the latest issue of the scientific journal ACS Nano.


Early detection of kidney diseases is very important because in the final stages of these diseases the patients reach the point where the kidneys no longer function sufficiently and they need dialysis. Along with the patient’s physical suffering and cardiovascular complications, there is also significant economic damage. In Israel alone, each such patient costs some NIS 300,000 annually. Early detection can delay dialysis for many years and improve the patient’s quality of life, as well as saving huge sums of money.


The idea to test the electronic nose on kidney diseases as well arose during a conversation between Dr. Haick and Prof. Zaid Abassi and Prof. Farid Nakhoul of the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine and the Rambam Medical Center. The idea is based on the fact that one of the characteristics of patients with kidney disease is a bad odor emitted from the mouth that can be detected at a distance. Because of this characteristic odor, doctors use this sign in order to diagnose patients with advanced chronic kidney deficiency.


As a starting off point, Prof. Abassi and his team of researchers induced advanced kidney disease in rats, which are an ideal model for checking feasibility. They attached the electronic nose to the rats’ windpipe. The researchers from the research group of Dr. Haick and Prof. Abassi found that the results of conventional tests for these diseases (usually blood and urine tests) fully match those of the electronic nose, which checked the rats’ breath. Moreover, the researchers discovered the structure of the materials emitted that are characteristic of kidney diseases. Until now, only two suspected materials were known. But Dr. Haick and the Technion research staff found four additional materials. Thus the ability to identify the disease will be more accurate. 27 materials were discovered that are found only in rats with kidney disease and not in healthy rats. Of these, the Technion researchers identified the five most important materials that signal development of kidney disease.


The Technion researchers have registered a patent on the discovery, which has aroused great interest in the international medical community. The patent relates to modification of the electronic nose for use in kidney research.


Initially, the nose developed by Prof. Haick was intended to sniff out and detect diseases. “The person breathes into the nose, which can diagnose, using nanometer-sized sensors, the type of disease and even determine in what stage the disease is,” explains Prof. Haick. “The diagnosis can be carried out at a very early stage even before the disease begins to progress. Thus, medication and appropriate diet will have an immediate effect and slow the disease at its inception. Even if the disease is discovered in the advanced stages, appropriate medication can still slow its progress significantly and spare these patients fast deterioration towards terminal chronic kidney deficiency and the need for dialysis. It will also spare them all the complications such as dangerous cardiovascular complications, physical and mental suffering and tremendous monetary costs.”


“In our research, we already showed that, using nanosensors, it is possible to differentiate between a healthy human being and one that is sick,” he says. “The challenge now before us is to distinguish between the various types of kidney diseases and the disease’s stages.”


Prof. Abassi adds that “we still have a long road ahead to attain the desired goal, which is very early diagnosis of the disease while it is still possible to treat and stop it. The development of differentiating sensors very highly sensitive to the signs of kidney deficiency will enable not only diagnosis of the disease but also monitoring the patient’s treatment response to the medication and change of lifestyle, etc.”


Today, large-scale clinic research is being carried out to sniff out kidney disease using breath samples in cooperation with Prof. Farid Nakhoul – the director of the Ambulatory Nephrology Unit at the Rambam Hospital. Using this breath test, the researchers hope to rank the stages of chronic kidney deficiency and thus provide early and effective treatment.


Prof. Haick researched and developed sensors and nanometric instruments at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Today, he is head of the nanomaterials based instruments laboratory, which is a leader, among other things, in multidisciplinary research for diagnosing diseases using artificial olfactory systems (electronic noses) based on non-invasive nanosensors. Prof. Abassi is a researcher in medical sciences, focusing on researching kidney diseases and high blood pressure in the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine and the Rambam Hospital. Prof. Nakhoul focuses on research concerning complications of diabetes in kidneys and clinical research on the mechanisms that cause high blood pressure and its treatment