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Electronic "Nose" Found to Sniff Out an Early Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Researchers in Sydney, Australia have designed a breath test to sniff out and diagnose malignant mesothelioma with an electronic "nose." The non-invasive test was created by a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

Asbestos-related diseases affect thousands of people, killing up to 20,000 worldwide every year. Malignant mesothelioma is a rare tumor that has traditionally been difficult to diagnose in its early stages. Conventional techniques for distinguishing between benign and malignant asbestos-related disease have been inaccurate, invasive, and difficult for the mostly elderly patients with the illness. Currently, there is no effective way to screen for the disease, and it is typically not diagnosed until the patient goes to a doctor after experiencing a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and wheezing. By the time the cancer is diagnosed, it is in an advanced stage causing life-threatening complications.

In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal this month, the researchers reported they analyzed and compared exhaled volatile organic compounds (VOCs) using a carbon polymer array (CPA) electronic "nose" of patients with malignant mesothelioma, benign asbestos-related diseases, and a control group.1 The device was designed to distinguish between benign and malignant disease and to detect the disease early.

Early detection of malignant mesothelioma has been shown to positively influence a patient's survival. Catching malignant mesothelioma earlier increases the chance for people diagnosed with the disease to get the right treatment to stop it from spreading, according to the UNSW research team leader Deborah Yates.

Yates and her team analyzed breath samples from 20 patients with malignant mesothelioma, along with 18 people with asbestos-related diseases and 42 healthy subjects. Using the e-nose researchers distinguished from control subjects with an accuracy of 95%. Patients with mesothelioma, benign asbestos-related diseases and control subjects were correctly identified in 88% of cases.

The study authors say exhaled breath profiling, or the CPA electronic nose, can accurately distinguish between each of these groups of patients, which could eventually translate into a screening tool for high-risk populations.Other researchers have reported similar studies utilizing scent or testing nasal cells to screen for the malignant mesothelioma:

  • Researchers at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Bari, Italy also developed an electronic nose to detect mesothelioma in exhaled breath. They had an 80% success rate.

• Researchers in Japan were able to use a dog to sniff out VOCs in mesothelioma patients.

• In a study at Boston University Medical Center, researchers used a scraping of epithelial cells from the interior of the nose to detect lung cancer.The UNSW researchers are hopeful that these results "could eventually translate into a screening tool for high-risk populations." 

The UNSW researchers are hopeful that these results "could eventually translate into a screening tool for high-risk populations"

1 Researchers Help to Sniff Out Malignant Mesothelioma Using An Electric Nose, 2012

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