Technion’s artificial nose inventor makes ‘Good Guy’ list

Professor Hossam Haick wins plaudits for developing cancer-sniffer, other innovations

Professor Hossam Haick (Courtesy)
Professor Hossam Haick (Courtesy)

Professor Hossam Haick of the Technion, whose groundbreaking research has led to the creation of technology that can smell out cancer, is one of the world’s most “Good” people, as listed by GOOD Magazine, an international publication that recognizes researchers for the benefits of their work for humanity. Haick, said the magazine, is one of the 100 most influential people in the world who are changing the world in a positive manner.

The GOOD 100 are “spearheading change” in the areas of science, education, and business, said the magazine, and Haick, among them, “refuses to accept the existing reality as the end of the story. Not one of the 100 people we have chosen operates out of a desire for fame – which is precisely why it is important to recognize their activity.”

Haick is best known for developing the NaNose technology that can be used to detect cancer by mechanically “smelling” elements in the breath of potential victims. Cancer tumors produce chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which easily evaporate into the air and produce a discernible scent profile. Haick’s NaNose chip detects the unique “signature” of VOCs in exhaled breath. In four out of five cases, the device differentiated between benign and malignant lung lesions and even different cancer subtypes.

Studies conducted by Haick show that the system is effective in detecting early-stage gastric (stomach) cancer. In a 2014 study published in medical journal Gut, the NaNose system was 80% as effective in detecting the diseaase as the standard method of gastric cancer detection, called GCMS (gas chromatography mass spectrometry) – but it was able to pick up the “scent” of the disease much earlier, allowing doctors to intervene and prevent its spread at an earlier stage.

Haick plans to develop a sensor that can be attached to a smartphone to “read” a person’s breath, analyzing it on the device or uploading it to the cloud for processing. The project is being funded by the European Commission, which has the consortium developing it a six million euro grant. The project is being developed by a consortium that includes universities and research institutes from Germany, Austria, Finland, Ireland and Latvia, as well as Irish cell biology research firm Cellix – with the NaNose system the centerpiece of the technology.

But NaNose is not the only innovation created by Haick. Haick has also developed a flexible sensor that can “repair” itself, consisting of “a non-biological and flexible self-healing platform with tailored sensitivity toward one or a combination of pressure, strain, gas analytes, and temperature” Haick and his team reported. “For demonstration, a complete self-healing device is described in the form of a bendable and stretchable chemiresistor, where every part is self-healing.”

And Haick pioneered the first-ever mass online course in Arabic on nanotechnology, with over 5,000 students students in the Arabic-speaking world attending Haick’s “Nanotechnology and Nanosensors” 2014 online course.

Besides the GOOD recognition, Haick last weekend was also presented with the Humboldt Research Award, which recognizes top research done throughout the world in cooperation with research institutes in Germany. Awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the prize is given to prominent researchers who have significantly influenced their fields of study, provided they maintain some type of cooperation with research institutes in Germany. It is granted in recognition of a researcher’s achievements as a whole – discoveries, theories, and insights.

Perhaps surprisingly, Haick is not a medical doctor. He earned his doctorate in the field of energy and only later switched to biomedical technology, but it may be because of this background he can see things from a different perspective.

“Precisely because I am not a doctor I was able to conceive such a unique development – an inexpensive and noninvasive system for diagnosing diseases based on breath,” he said. “Inspired by dogs, who know how to identify disease but not to tell the person what disease he has, I developed this digital system that accurately diagnoses the disease and its stage of development. Today, we are working on several aspects of the system, including diagnosis of additional diseases and an interface that connects it to a smartphone.”

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