Smelling cancer? A new way of detecting the disease

An ‘electronic nose’ has been developed which can detect ovarian cancer via a person’s breath.

Olfactory sensors, such as we have in our noses; have been the subject of a huge amount of research for several years. The work by reacting to specific volatile chemical compounds upon contact with a sample causing physical changes in the sensor, recorded and interpreted electronically to identify the compound.

Now, researchers at the University of Israel have developed an e-nose that has an 82 per cent success rate in detecting ovarian cancer via their interaction with gold nano-particles on a flexible sensor.

Though these may not be the best odds of diagnosis, it is a huge leap forward for ovarian cancer, as many cases are not detected until very late development, leaving only a 17-39 per cent five year survival rate. If this could be developed and distributed on a larger scale, it could change the face of cancer screenings, and inspire the many others attempting to develop similar systems, and those researching disease associated smells and molecules.

However, this system has only been tested on 43 volunteers, of whom 17 had ovarian cancer. From a relatively small-scale study it must undergo many more tests, and many years before we’ll see it in the GP surgery.


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