Penn Researchers Discover Use Of Electronic 'Nose'

October 22, 1997

(Philadelphia, PA) -- Cats, dogs, and other animals depend on their noses for survival, so why not try to find a more significant medical use for the sense of smell for humans? This is the rationale behind research conducted by C. William Hanson, III, MD, associate professor of anesthesia and chief of anesthesia/critical care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. The use of a novel electronic "nose" to diagnose the presence of pulmonary infection will be presented by Hanson at the American Society of Anesthesiologists annual meeting on Wednesday, October 22, in San Diego.

Breath samples were collected in plastic bags from the ventilators of 19 intubated intensive care patients (nine of whom were already diagnosed with pneumonia) and fed into the aroma- analysis device. The exhaled gas was analyzed with the device's multi-element odor detectors which interact with volatile molecules to produce unique patterns displayed in two-dimensional "maps", or dot patterns, on a computer screen. The device displays varying electrical resistances to the breath sample's volatile molecules by plotting to distinctively different patterns on the screen -- distinguishing infected patients from noninfected patients.

The use of the electronic "nose" has several major advantages over conventional diagnostic tools and has great potential as a method to detect other diseases, as well as pulmonary infections. "Rather than waiting two to three days for the results of a bacterial culture, or relying on chest X-rays that may be inaccurate, doctors can almost instantaneously evaluate their patients for infection," says Hanson. "Doctors can also avoid prescribing powerful, often un-needed antibiotics while waiting for test results -- drugs that may foster the growth of resistant bacteria."

The sense of smell has long been used as a diagnostic tool by medical professionals. However, because of its subjectivity, it has never gained prominence in medicine -- until now. By displaying accurate results in minutes, the aroma-analysis device could decrease or eliminate the need for expensive cultures and X-rays, as well as minimize the unnecessary use of antibiotics. The innovative use of breath samples, coupled with current computer technology, has produced the ability to detect infection faster, easier, and at an earlier stage, with the potential for future utilization in the diagnoses of a wide range of diseases.
-end-
Editor's Notes:
Dr. Hanson can be reached directly at (215) 662-3753 until October 16. From October 16 - 22, please contact Diane Giaccone to reach him at the ASA annual meeting in San Diego.

Dr. Hanson's research on the effectiveness of the aroma-analysis device in the detection of pneumonia was published in the September supplement of Anesthesiology, a peer-review scientific journal. Dr. Hanson holds stock in AromaScan, the manufacturer of the AromaScanner Analyser which was used as the electronic "nose" in this study.

University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

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