Virginia Gewin in Nature:
Hossam Haick, a nanotechnology researcher at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, has developed devices to detect cancer using exhaled breath rather than through biopsies. But, he explains, life in Israel can be difficult for Arab scientists. He is therefore trying to use his science to bridge cultural boundaries.
How many Arab professors are at the Technion?
Out of 600 faculty members, there are 9 Arab professors. The Arab community in Israel is 20% of the population, but in academia, it is roughly 1%. There is a pervasive belief in Israel that the Arab community is not educated. I try to dispel that notion.
How did you get the idea to use breath to diagnose disease?
I read a lot of the history. From the ancient Greeks 2,400 years ago to Alexander Graham Bell in the early 1900s, there were long-standing hypotheses of the smell of chronic disease in breath. I also heard hypotheses that dogs could smell cancer. I decided to see if I could prove scientifically whether there is something about exhaled breath that can reveal signs of disease.
At what stage is the research?
We have shown that exhaled breath contains unique fingerprints of specific diseases. We have lab results, as well as animal experiments. We have run clinical studies with 5,000 patients across 19 departments and 9 institutions, where we collected breath with a small device called NaNose, which is able to detect more than 1,000 different compounds in the breath from all of these people. We started with lung cancer, and have extended studies to gastric, colorectal and breast cancers, as well as to degenerative disease such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis. In the case of lung cancer, we are able to discriminate between benign and malignant tumours with 88% accuracy. By using breath to discriminate between benign and malignant tumours, we could save people from having to undergo unnecessary biopsies and surgeries.