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Digital archive of theses discussed at the University of Pisa


Thesis etd-05022018-153608

Thesis type
Tesi di dottorato di ricerca
Thesis title
A portable, intelligent, customizable device for human breath analysis
Academic discipline
Course of study
tutor Prof. Landini, Luigi
tutor Dott. Salvetti, Ovidio
tutor Prof. Marcelloni, Francesco
  • breath analysis
  • data processing
  • gas sensors
  • portable devices
  • signal processing
Graduation session start date
Breath analysis allows for monitoring the metabolic processes that occur in human body in a non-invasive way. Comparing with other traditional methods such as blood test, breath analysis is harmless to not only the subjects but also the personnel who collect the samples.
However, despite its great potential, only few breath tests are commonly used in clinical practice nowadays. Breath analysis has not gained a wider use yet. One of the main reasons is related to standard instrumentation for gas analysis. Standard instrumentation, such as gas chromatography, is expensive and time consuming. Its use, as well as the interpretation of the results, often requires specialized personnel. E-nose systems, based on gas sensor array, are easier to use and able to analyze gases in real time, but, although cheaper than a gas chromatograph, their cost remains high.
During my research activity, carried on at the Signals and Images Laboratory (SiLab) of the Institute of Information Science and Technology (ISTI) of the National Research Council (CNR), I design and developed the so called Wize Sniffer (WS), a device able to accurately analyze human breath composition and, at the same time, to overcome the limitations of existing instrumentation for gas analysis.
The idea of theWize Sniffer was born in the framework of SEMEiotic Oriented Technology for Individual’s CardiOmetabolic risk self-assessmeNt and Self-monitoring (SEMEOTICONS, www.semeoticons.eu) European Project, and it was designed for detecting, in human breath, those molecules related to the noxious habits for cardio-metabolic risk. The clinical assumption behind the Wize Sniffer lied in the fact that harmful habits such as alcohol consumption, smoking, unhealthy diet cause a variation in the concentration of a set of molecules (among which carbon monoxide, ethanol, hydrogen, hydrogen sulfide) in the exhaled breath. Therefore, the goal was to realize a portable and easy-to-use device, based on cheap electronics, to be used by anybody at their
The main contributions of my work were the following:

- design and development of a portable, low cost, customizable, easy to use device, able to be used in whichever context of use: I succeeded in this with using cheap commercial discrete gas sensors and an Arduino board, wrote the software and calibrated the system;
- development of a method to analyze breath composition and understand individual’s cardio-metabolic risk; I also validated it with success on real people.

Given such good outcomes, I wanted the Wize Sniffer took a further step forward, towards the diagnosis in particular. The application field regarded the chronic liver impairment, as the studies which involve e-nose systems in the identification of liver disease are still few. In addition, the diagnosis of liver impairment often requires very invasive clinical test (biopsy, for instance).
In this proof-of-concept study, the Wize Sniffer showed good diagnosis-oriented properties in discriminating the severity of liver disease (absence of disease, chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, hepatic encephalopathy) on the base of the detected ammonia.