New York, Jan 12: Ancient medical practitioners relied on their nose to diagnose illness. Technology is now turning this ancient art into modern science. Technicians and engineers are working to develop an electronic nose which will allow doctors to use their sense of smell to detect much beyond what the nose knows about the human body.
The odour signatures of a disease arise due to several reasons. Bacteria, like all living organisms, release unique mixtures of gases; bacterial infections may be diagnosed by the characteristic scents of these gases. However, non-bacterial disorders, such as diabetes, may prompt biochemical changes that alter the smell of a patient's body. But many of these odours may be tough for the humans to detect and identify.
Ancient doctors knew that diabetes could make a patient's breath smell, sweet and that a wound emitting a foul odor was infected. The new gadget would be a revolutionary step in the medical engineers' efforts to develop increasingly non-invasive techinques to diagnose and detect ailments.
There are varieties of electronic e-nose models, all of which consist of an array of olfactory sensors that are activated in unique patterns when exposed to different aromas. A special Software identifies each odour and its source by analysing the patterns.
''Both diseases and bacteria that cause diseases have individual and unique odours. You can walk into a patient's room and know immediately in some cases that the patient has such and such bacteria just because of the odour,'' Scientific American quoted Bill Hanson, an anesthesiologist and critical care specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.
Combined with the fact that these artificial noses are faster, cheaper and less invasive than many other diagnostic tests, and it is easy to understand why physicians find the technology appealing.