The Italian Almanac

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Italian Science - June 2

A new 'electronic nose' being developed by an Italian-French-Spanish team may be able to sniff out disease, drugs, bombs and a range of other modern ills. "The potential of this odour technology is infinite," said Professor Josep Samitier, the coordinator of the 'Spot-Nosed' project. "Our tests have shown that nanobiosensors are able to detect odour molecules with a very high degree of accuracy, with results beyond our expectations in some cases".

Samitier, a University of Barcelona lecturer, said the team's energies are focused on the technology's potential health applications. "It could be used to diagnose organic imbalances, infections and even cancer." This could lead to new tests for the presence of disease molecules in patients' breath, urine or blood. In this way doctors could use Spot-Nosed-based devices instead of expensive scans and invasive techniques - like the bronchoscopes used to detect lung cancer - or employ them beforehand as a sort of early-warning system.

This would make it possible to screen large groups of people who are at high risk of developing certain diseases, such as smokers, quickly and at a fraction of the present cost. Samitier said e-noses could also eventually be developed to help police sniff out drugs and explosives, health and environment authorities to check for pollutants and researchers to test cosmetics and medicines.