Israeli Professor Hossam Haick of the Wolfson Faculty of Chemical Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology was awarded the European Commission Innovation Prize last week for his invention of the SNIFFPHONE, a device that uses nanotechnology sensors to analyze particles on the breath and is able to pinpoint to exact diseases, like certain kinds of cancer, pulmonary and even the early stages of neurodegenerative diseases.
Haick was awarded the prize last week in Lisbon, Portugal at the annual European Forum of Electronic Components and Systems (EFECS), which focused on humanity’s “digital future.” The Technion professor was chosen by a prize committee as the most innovative scientist realizing an idea in the field of electronic systems.
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The SNIFFPHONE includes the NaNose, developed in 2014 by Haick and Professor Nir Peled of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine. It is a microchip incorporated into a the breathalyzer-like device, capable of diagnosing various diseases. The device uses the presence of specific volatile organic compounds, which are unique fingerprints for various forms of diseases.
“We look for what are called volatile organic compounds, or biomarkers, on the breath. These biomarkers are chemical compounds that are imitated from the source of the disease and, as a result, are diffused within the bloodstream. Of course, the bloodstream is in contact with the skin and the lungs, which is why our test is able to detect them,” Haick told NoCamels in 2015.
In a 2017 study led by Haick and which involved 1404 participants from five countries, the NaNose was able to differentiate between malignant and benign tumors, as well as their source, with almost 90 percent accuracy.
The SNIFFPHONE and NaNose are among a long list of achievements for the award-winning scientist. He holds dozens of patents and made it into a number of notable lists, including the “World’s 35 leading young scientists” by the MIT Technology Review for his research in non-invasive disease detection methods, and a list of 100 most influential inventors by several international agencies between 2015-2018.
The European Commission previously awarded him $6.8 million for further development of the NaNose.
He’s also won an array of prizes and medals, including Knight in Order of the Academic Palms by the French Government, the Humboldt Award, the Bill and Melinda Gates Prize and the Herschel Ritz Innovation Award.
He currently serves as faculty and F.M.W. Academic Chair in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Technion and serves as a consultant to several commercial companies that spun out of his laboratories at the prestigious university.
His latest work, alongside Technion postdoctoral researcher Weiwei Wu, involves wearable health devices that include electrodes and sensors applied onto nylon textiles and permeable skin-mimicking bandages that constantly monitor breath rate, skin odor and chemical biomarkers (saliva, sweat). Specific irregularities in these parameters can indicate the presence of a disease, according to the research results published in Advanced Materials this year.
Though certain technologies already possess these capabilities, Haick’s devices set themselves apart through self-sustainability. In particular, the gadget hopes to use cutting-edge materials that heal themselves and take advantage of the body’s wasted energy. Its components harvest the energy of body heat and movement, and they use synthetics that regenerate its properties upon damage. These advances alleviate risks such as leaving a device uncharged, torn or scratched. This technology will increasingly improve the quality of life through becoming a remote nurse that constantly accompanies an individual, according to the researchers.
Due to the constant monitoring of an individual’s vitals, these sensors provide a diagnosis of diseases in early stages. This prevents diseases from progressing, which Haick cites as a motivation for his research. “The results are very encouraging,” Haick told NoCamels this summer, pointing to recent testing done on tuberculosis screening using sensors integrated into bandages. Among the standard “healthy” ranges set for the devices are 60 to 100 heartbeats and seven to eight breaths per minute.
However, the product is only in its preliminary stages. According to Haick, though the discrete devices exist, the sensor and energy units are yet to be integrated into one product. Currently, the research team awaits a patent on a breathable self-healing platform imitating skin. Although his research team waits for further results, Haick states he is already seeking investors for what he calls a “promising and prospective technology.”
The wearable health device sector has tremendous potential. Experts predict this market will reach nearly $20 billion by 2021. Not only do these technologies monitor a patient’s vitals, they also facilitate communication between patients and healthcare professionals around the clock and reduce the cost of human labor associated with constantly checking patients.
Haick’s research group is also working on other related projects. Notably, the team is developing self-repairing multipurpose health monitors that resemble tattoos imprinted on skin. This device will make use of a field-effect transistor (FET), which can modify its behavior through a varying electric field.
Ben Huang contributed to this report.