"Breathing" Device May Be Key to Understanding Why People Get Sick


Scientists have invented a device that can determine the cause of a person's respiratory disease based on environmental factors / Photo by: Billion Photos via Shutterstock


Ever since the Industrial Revolution, air pollution has become a major problem in the world that has persisted all the way to today. It has given rise to a plethora of diseases, some of which we are only getting some measure of understanding as we continue to uncover information and create new tools for their study.

Experts agree that environmental factors play a large role in the spread of disease, but they haven’t come up yet with a way to assess how exposure to their surroundings or what they actually breathe in that affects an individual and a group’s susceptibility to an illness.

In an attempt to help resolve this issue, researchers have come up with a new and portable device that “inhales” samples of air similar to the natural breathing rhythm of humans, so that it can get a better idea of what people are exposed to on a daily basis. With this device, the researchers conducted their study, one that has never been done before, and involved 15 individuals. Participants were made to wear the device, which had the same size as an iPhone and was placed inside a case that was strapped to the arm of the person as they went about their daily business. There was no uniform amount of time set for how long the participants needed to wear the device, as the study’s objective was explorative in nature.

Microbiologist and Director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago Jack Gilbert said the new device is powerful. “Where you live can affect your disease risk, and that is based on what you are being exposed to. We’ve been tracking chemical pollutants in the air and in the water, but if we had a device like this, we could produce a much more robust data set. It’d be huge.”

The results of the study showed that every single participant had a distinct exposome, which researchers defined as the mixture of microparticles and bacteria that we inhale regularly. What surprised them was the significant variety of these exposomes despite the fact that the participants were all from the San Francisco Bay Area. They said this could be the key to understanding diseases more thoroughly.