Laser research yields precision breath analysis tool for asthma diagnosis (treatment)

October 04, 2002

Research at the University of Oklahoma has yielded a novel way of using a laser to analyze exhalations of asthma sufferers, opening the door to more accurate diagnosis and prescriptive treatment of the malady.

Patrick McCann, through a National Science Foundation research award, coupled a laser spectroscopy system to a tunable laser to create a device that can accurately and simultaneously measure both carbon dioxide and nitric oxide levels of a single exhalation of breath. The precise measurements provided by McCann's instrument might help doctors evaluate airway inflammation and prescribe medications at a level of accuracy corresponding to the measurement, thereby providing the most efficient and effective treatment while eliminating overmedication.

In diagnosing and treating asthma, physicians must assess how much air is actually flowing through a patient's airways, which is made more difficult with airway inflammation. Airway inflammation itself is most often assessed by physically invasive procedures. Earlier research found that asthmatics exhale more nitric oxide when their airways are inflamed, making measurement of its levels the preferred method for determining inflammation severity.

At present, nitric oxide levels are measured with devices that analyze chemiluminescence, a photochemical reaction between nitrogen and an ozone sample. Multiple tests are sometimes necessary. Also, chemiluminescence-based devices require periodic recalibration, whereas McCann's laser does not.

The device is currently undergoing clinical trials.
The findings are published in two journals of the Optical Society of America -- the October edition of Applied Optics and the Jan. 15 edition of Optics Letters.

Additional Contact Information:

Program contact:
LaVerne Hess

Note to editors: The award numbers related to this discovery are 9416871, 9704255 and 9802396. The proposals can be found by entering the numbers in the search field at

The Optical Society of America's Web site address is The two journals can be found at:; and

National Science Foundation

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