Toshiba Develops High-speed Breath Analyzer

Mar 19, 2014
Jyunichi Oshita, Nikkei Digital Health
Naoko Toyoshima announcing the new technology
Naoko Toyoshima announcing the new technology
[Click to enlarge image]
A breath is being blown to the device for measurement.
A breath is being blown to the device for measurement.
[Click to enlarge image]

Toshiba Corp developed a device that can measure the small amount of gas contained in exhaled breath in a short period of time.

With the device, it becomes possible to measure the contained amount of gas that enables to know the physical condition of the person (biomarker) with a detectability of 0.1ppm just by blowing a breath to the desktop-size device. It takes about 30 seconds to measure the amount. The company plans to release the device in fiscal 2015.

Using knowhow to manufacture semiconductors

Toshiba has been promoting the "New Concept Innovation" in the aim of fusing a wide range of technologies to create new products and services since 2013. The development of the new product started by using the company's semiconductor technologies when the concept was proposed.

"For differentiating the product, we used laser diode technologies that we had been developing for electronic devices," said Naoko Toyoshima, a chief specialist in Toshiba's corporate New Business Development Division. "Also, we applied knowhow to analyze gasses that we had been building up for manufacturing semiconductors."

As a method to analyze a small amount of gas with a detectability of 0.1ppm, gas chromatography has been commonly used. However, this method requires expertise for analysis and takes several days.

This time, Toshiba realized an easy, quick analysis method by using "laser absorption spectroscopy," which exploits the fact that each gas absorbs light having a certain wavelength depending on its type. With this method, the new device detects a gas that functions as a biomarker in exhaled breath that contains about 500 kinds of trace gasses.

However, with conventional laser absorption spectroscopy, it is difficult to achieve the detectability of 0.1ppm. Therefore, to improve detection accuracy, Toshiba employed a laser light source having a wavelength that allows each gas to absorb a large amount of light. Specifically, the company used a "quantum cascade laser," which has an oscillation wavelength of 3-10μm (mid-infrared waveband), instead of a common laser device (oscillation wavelength: 2.5μm or lower).

The quantum cascade laser is a new high-efficiency laser device that enables each electron to emit light several times.

"The quantum cascade laser requires advanced knowhow for stacking films in multiple layers," Toyoshima said. "There are few companies that have realized it."