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Researchers Hope to Sniff Out Malignant Mesothelioma Using an Electronic Nose

Early detection of malignant mesothelioma has been shown to positively influence a patient’s survival. As a result, finding an effective, non-invasive screening tool for mesothelioma has been the focus of many researchers.  Now, researchers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) report they have been able to diagnose the disease by sniffing it out through an electronic nose.

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) of patients with malignant mesothelioma, benign asbestos-related diseases and a control group.

The researchers selected the smell prints from 10 new mesothelioma patients. 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.

Pleural mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure.  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.

“If you catch it [mesothelioma] earlier your chances of actually giving people the right treatment to stop it spreading are actually better,” says study team leader, Associate Professor Deborah Yates, according to News-Medical.net.

UNSW researchers are not the first ones to turn to the sense of smell to detect mesothelioma.  The following similar studies report success through scent or testing nasal cells to screen for the disease:

  • 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 researchers at UNSW concluded that “exhaled breath VOC profiling” can accurately distinguish between patients with malignant mesothelioma, benign asbestos-related disease and a control group. The authors are hopeful that these results “could eventually translate into a screening tool for high-risk populations.”

Mesothelioma is diagnosed in close to 3,000 Americans each year. The most at risk populations are veterans and industrial workers who were exposed to asbestos decades ago. Recent reports show that first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks are now at risk of developing mesothelioma.  An effective screening tool is needed soon to help prevent these people from developing mesothelioma in future years.

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Nancy Meredith is a blog and web content writer with more than 20 years of professional experience in the Information Technology industry. She has been writing about Mesothelioma for 4 years. Follow Nancy on Google+

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