Diagnosing lung cancer in exhaled breath using gold nanoparticles

Nat Nanotechnol. 2009 Oct;4(10):669-73. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2009.235. Epub 2009 Aug 30.


Conventional diagnostic methods for lung cancer are unsuitable for widespread screening because they are expensive and occasionally miss tumours. Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry studies have shown that several volatile organic compounds, which normally appear at levels of 1-20 ppb in healthy human breath, are elevated to levels between 10 and 100 ppb in lung cancer patients. Here we show that an array of sensors based on gold nanoparticles can rapidly distinguish the breath of lung cancer patients from the breath of healthy individuals in an atmosphere of high humidity. In combination with solid-phase microextraction, gas chromatography/mass spectrometry was used to identify 42 volatile organic compounds that represent lung cancer biomarkers. Four of these were used to train and optimize the sensors, demonstrating good agreement between patient and simulated breath samples. Our results show that sensors based on gold nanoparticles could form the basis of an inexpensive and non-invasive diagnostic tool for lung cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breath Tests / methods*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Exhalation*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Gold*
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Metal Nanoparticles*
  • Middle Aged
  • Principal Component Analysis


  • Gold