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‘Just breathe’: Missouri S&T researchers ready for clinical trials for diagnostic instrument


Newswise — ROLLA, Mo. – When an ill person schedules a doctor visit, blood work or other diagnostic testing is often required before a diagnosis is determined. Missouri University of Science and Technology electrical engineering researcher Dr. Jie Huang is developing technology that would allow patients to “just breathe” and avoid that testing.

Huang isn’t trying to alleviate the patients’ anxiety and stress by encouraging them to “just breathe.” Instead, the Roy A. Wilkens Endowed Associate Professor of electrical engineering envisions this may actually become a common diagnostic tool in the coming years.

Huang is leading a team of Missouri S&T researchers that is focused on developing an inexpensive microwave sensor testing system to measure the volatile organic compounds in a person’s breath. Pending grant approval, the team is ready to use their technology in large-scale clinical trials.

“With how ultra-sensitive the measurements will be, people will be able to quickly have an indication of what type of disease or illness they may have,” Huang says. “Take diabetes, for example. We can measure the amount of acetone in a person’s breath, and this can indicate the possibility of them having this disease.”

Other illnesses that could potentially be measured include kidney disease, cancer or lung conditions.

“Several hundred VOCs can be measured, so we can develop a panel with this information and potentially correlate the results to certain diseases,” Huang says.

The system could also be used to detect contagious particles in a person’s breath profile. This could be useful for screening purposes in airports or in other areas with large crowds. The National Institutes of Health previously supported Huang’s research with approximately $1 million in funding, and he is hopeful the organization will soon be on board to fund the clinical trials as well.

Huang says microwave sensors that are part of a coaxial cable are used for this system. The necessary supplies are available at local hardware stores for a minimal cost. He says the technology needed to determine the breath testing results could eventually cost less than $1,000.

“Right now, the most similar technology to our design would be a mass spectrometry instrument, which is a large machine that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and has significantly slower results than our technology,” Huang says. “Our design could completely change the world of diagnostics and make this type of resource much more available.”

Instead of a large, costly machine, this system could sit on a tabletop in a doctor’s office, or it may eventually be available for home use.

“This will play an important role in the future of screenings and medicine,” Huang says. “The next step will be the large-scale clinical trials to affirm the efficacy of our technology, and then we will hopefully see this take off and help people around the world.”

Dr. Rex E. Gerald II, a research professor of electrical engineering, is a co-principal investigator on this project.

For more information about Missouri S&T’s electrical engineering programs, visit

About Missouri University of Science and Technology
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System and located in Rolla, Missouri, Missouri S&T offers 101 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top 10 universities for return on investment, according to Business Insider. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit


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