Researchers developing artificial noses for detecting diseases

But are they better than dogs?
June 7, 2012

Bioelectronic Olfactory Neuron Device (credit: BOND project)

European researchers are developing new artificial noses for disease diagnostics.

A multidisciplinary research team with eight European partners is collaborating under a EU-funded project called Bioelectronic Olfactory Neuron Device, dubbed BOND. Their aim is to develop a very sensitive and selective device that can detect and distinguish different types of smells.

This system relies on electrodes binding to olfactory receptors capable of sending tiny electric signals, which are subsequently detected and amplified. The challenge is to develop whole new arrays of olfactory receptors to process different smells for different diseases.

Artificial noses represent a non-invasive, rapid diagnosis tool, which could allow quick disease screening and ultimately significantly transform diagnostics, the researchers say.

Its applications are manifold. For example, prostate cancer could be detected through the analysis of urine samples. The project researchers combined artificial intelligence with sensing technologies to design noses that display greater performance than currently available olfactory technology.

Artificial noses have been used to detect diseases such as urinary tract infection, Helicobacter pylori, tuberculosis, ear, nose and throat conditions and even lung cancer. For example, researchers at the University of Warwick have developed an electronic nose for sensing volatile organic compounds from urine to differentiate between diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.