Share this article:

Four University of California-Irvine materials science and engineering researchers will receive $1.3 million from the National Science Foundation for work that could be used to develop lung disease treatments.

The team is working on a nanotechnology-based optical sensor that can detect trace levels of infection in a small sample of breath.

Get the latest OC business updates for FREE

A nanometer is 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Possible applications for their research include a breath analysis device—similar to the device police officers use to gauge blood alcohol levels—to detect and monitor chronic lung illnesses, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, among other maladies.

The device could be paired with smart phone technology to alert medical professionals immediately to the results, the university said.

Researchers Filippo Capolino, Ozdal Boyraz, Regina Ragan and Marc Madou are still at the “basic science” level, with a prototype the possible next step after their work.

“This grant highlights the strength of our faculty in both nanosciences and advanced manufacturing,” said Gregory Washington, dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering in a statement.

Results may also have application for measuring environmental conditions—harmful airborne agents, for instance—and gastrointestinal disorders such as monitoring bacterial colonies in the stomach, UCI said.