from the May 2011 issue

Israeli scientists develop artificial, cancer-sniffing nose

The remarkable ability of some dogs to sniff out the presence of cancer is the inspiration behind the Nanoscale Artificial Nose (NA-NOSE).

Able to sniff out explosives, narcotics and even some forms of disease, dogs have long been known for their extraordinary sense of smell. Building on nature's accomplishments, Israeli researchers have created an artificial nose that could diagnose cancer.

The device, developed by a team lead by Professor Hossam Haick of the Israel Institute of Technology, could possibly become an important tool for diagnosing head and neck cancers.

Called the Nanoscale Artificial Nose (NA-NOSE), the device uses five advanced sensors and some imaginative software to detect chemical compounds that appear in the breath of people with head, neck and lung cancer. The device works by "smelling" microscopic particles produced by tumorous cells and detecting changes in blood chemistry and metabolic activity.

Mr. Haick said "The NA-NOSE concept has the potential to reduce cancer mortality, by enabling widespread, and trustworthy screening."

Dogs able to detect bowel cancer: study
In an initial test of 80 volunteers, most of whom were cancer patients, the NA-NOSE detected all the infected subjects. It also discerns between the different types of the disease such as cancers of the mouth, lips, lungs, larynx and salivary glands.

Worldwide, head and neck cancer is the eighth most common form of the disease.

"My inspiration for this technology was the dogs that, naturally, can identify chemical traces in the range of parts per trillion," Mr. Haick said in the statement.

According to the Oxford Journal of Chemical Senses, a dog's nose is 1,000 to 10,000 times more sensitive than a human's, depending on the breed. Past studies show that dogs can be trained to sniff out disease in humans.

A study published in a January 2011 issue of the Journal of the Gut, found that a specially trained Labrador retriever was able to identify the presence of cancer in breath and stool samples 95 and 98% of the time, respectively. The highest detection rates were with samples taken from individuals with early stages of the disease.

Another study published in 2006 in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies found that dogs with only a few weeks of training could accurately differentiate between breath samples of patients with lung and breast cancer and those of healthy subjects.

Despite their remarkable abilities, dogs have not been widely recruited.
Glen Golden, researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, an independent institute dedicated to taste and smell research, says that dogs are not being used to diagnose cancer, though in some parts of the world they do diagnose tuberculosis.

He says that given the impracticalities of using canines for diagnostic research, the NA-NOSE could be a valuable tool. "Dogs get tired," he says. "They cannot function at 100%. A machine, could in theory, be more practical."

The NA-NOSE will need to be tested before it can be used as an actual diagnostic tool. Several large-scale studies are to be funded by a group of research councils, companies and universities. But, Mr. Haick said the initial results are promising.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report May 2011

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