13:41 GMT31 July 2021
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    In the olden days, doctors used their nose to diagnose disease by smelling the patients' breath. Now, Swedish researchers have developed an analytical instrument that can mimic this ability. The ambition is to develop a simple, portable and inexpensive way of diagnosing various diseases.

    The air we exhale contains nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen, as well as traces of more than 100 volatile chemical components. The amount of these substances varies depending on the patient's health, which scientists hope to exploit with the help of odor-sensitive nanosensors.

    Experimental "breath-meters" have been developed before, but they mostly focused on a single disease. By identifying a unique "breath print" for various diseases, Swedish researchers have constructed an apparatus that is capable of diagnosing no less than 17 diseases, including cancer and Parkinson's. According to Mats J. Olsson, professor at the Karolinska Institute, this discovery may facilitate the early detection of diseases.

    "A simple handheld device is a nice and easy way to test for specific diseases, provided that the diseases are identified with a reliable margin of error. This way, you can hopefully avoid the patient having to undergo further analysis. Moreover, the method makes it possible to detect and treat diseases at an earlier stage," Mats J. Olsson told Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

    According to Olsson, the human sense of smell is very keen. However, people may have a hard time picking up scents overshadowed by a strong odor. To facilitate recognition, nanosensors were used to distinguish between various odor components. The research team used spectrometry, a tool used to examine biological samples, to identify the constituents of the "sick" breath. Based on the proportion of 13 components, the researchers found that every illness produces a unique "breath print."

    "The first step to correctly classify the disease through its smell. The next step is to analyze the pathophysiological process, which is what happens to the body as the disease progresses," Mats J. Olsson said.

    As early as 400 BC, ancient Greek physician Hippocrates taught his students to smell their patients' breath to obtain clues to their diseases. In the 1800s, the "nasal diagnosis" method made a brief comeback, yet had to give way to technologically advanced methods, such as laboratory analyses.

    "Evolution-wise, it was very important to smell the sickness, especially during periods when infectious diseases were the greatest danger to people. Aversion and distaste for the smell of disease evolved to keep us healthy," Mats J. Olsson concluded.


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    Sweden, Scandinavia, Hippocrates, SVT, Karolinska Institute, medicine
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