The Daily Gleaner: A health breath test? UNB innovators honoured

Andrien Rackov has been recognized for research that’s both groundbreaking and breathtaking. The University of New Brunswick analytical chemist is part of a team isolating chemicals in a person’s breath to determine how healthy – or unhealthy- they really are. Basically, they’re creating a health breathlyzer.

Rackov is one of four UNB researchers being hailed among Canada’s top emerging innovators by the national not-for-profit organization Mitacs. In all, Mitacs is saluting 150 researchers from across the country “whose dedication and vision have impacted our past and will inspire our future,”Mitacs CEO and scientific director Alejandro Adem said in a release.

The other UNB innovators are Tanzina Huq, Arash Lashkari and Babak Shirani. Huq is part of a team creating a sustainable natural food preservative from mushroom extract, instead of a widely used animal extract. Lashkari has more than 20 years of experience developing technology that detects and protects against cyberattacks, malware and the dark web.

Shirani’s focused on developing new technologies to purify natural gas in the hope of limiting air pollution and protect the environment.

“Researchers like these four from UNB exemplify the creativity, diversity, and tenacity that make Canada a wonderful place to live,” Adem said. Rackov said his research is focused on two areas: “What is the quality of the air that we’re breathing in and what is coming out of our bodies?”

For example, if you’re in a home where you have a severe mould problem, those moulds can release certain chemicals that, long term, result in you having health problems, he said. So his research includes the development of an ‘air sniffer’ test to tell if a building has mould. He’s also creating a breathalyzer to make early detection for heart disease, lung cancer and other diseases easier and less intrusive. “Right now, we have a study that is just getting ramped up,” Rackov said. “We’re going to be looking at several different diseases that we might be able to track using something like a breath test.”

Rackov said the research is a collaboration between the New Brunswick Research and Productivity Council (RPC), UNB and Dalhousie University. “It’s not a one-person project. It really takes a whole team to get this off the ground,” he said. “There’s tremendous opportunity to improve quality of life and potentially catch diseases in their early stages.”

Being honoured by Mitacs is unexpected but appreciated, Rackov said. “It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m one of the top 150 for Canada’s 150, but it’s certainly a thrill to be recognizedand it speaks to the calibre of the great research being done here.”

By: Bruce Hallihan