Someday Your Doctor Will Sniff You (And You’ll Be Good With It)

David DiSalvo wrote . . . . . .

Imagine instead of having your blood drawn, your doctor tells you that your symptoms will be evaluated with a thorough, non-invasive sniffing. Sounds strange, sure, but the technology to identify what ails us via smell is coming—at least smell through amplifying tools, if not a regular human nose. Much can be learned sniffing someone’s breath, for example, assuming the sniffer knows what it’s sniffing for. One day before long, your doctor may examine you just like that.

A team of researchers recently showed impressive progress in that direction using a high-tech “nose” made of carbon nanotubes. The tiny cylindrical carbon sheets, tipped with gold, were designed to sniff the breath of patients suffering from an array of serious illnesses, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hypertension and cancer. Unlike a human nose, however, this electrode nose was outfitted with layers of organic film designed to detect compounds associated with a range of diseases.

The team tested the nose on the breath of about 1,400 patients, each suffering from at least one of 17 illnesses. The results weren’t perfect. The nose had some trouble distinguishing between closely related forms of cancer, although it still did better than chance. But it scored almost flawlessly in other cases between less closely related diseases. Overall the success rate was 86%.

For an initial test, that’s not bad at all. Unlike breath analyzers designed to find one disease (or, for that matter, dogs trained to identify particular ailments), this one can potentially pick a needle from the enormous haystack of things that infect our bodies. Analysis at that level would be a major leap forward if it helps avoid blood tests and other invasive screenings.

We’re not close to being there just yet, but with time and adjustment, disease sniffers may become a standard go-to in your family doc’s office. Quoting the researchers from the study, “This approach has the potential to support detection of many diseases in a direct harmless way, which can reassure patients and prevent numerous unpleasant investigations.” And avoiding “unpleasant investigations” in a doctor’s office, I’m guessing you’ll agree, has a lot of upside.

The study was published in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: Forbes


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