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Robot nose that can “smell” disease on your breath

Overview: A new robotic system can identify volatile organic compounds associated with disease by analyzing body emissions.

Source: Tsinghua University Press

Scientists are working on diagnostic techniques that can sniff out chemical compounds from breath, sweat, tears and other body emissions and act as fingerprints for thousands of diseases.

But bringing this concept – known as ‘volatolomics’ – and the associated diagnostic technologies from the laboratory to commercialization will require collaboration between a large number of disciplines.

This includes researchers such as chemists, materials scientists and electrical engineers who rarely speak the same language and are largely unfamiliar with each other’s findings.

An extensive new review of this still very young field aims to build a bridge between the many different actors involved.

When you smell a perfume, encounter the scent of flowers or herbs, or are bothered by a whiff of pollutants, what does your body actually feel? volatile organic compounds, chemicals that have a low boiling point and therefore evaporate easily. That is, they are volatileand these chemicals are called as a group volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

All organisms intentionally release VOCs for a variety of purposes, including defense, communication, and reproduction. But VOCs are also released Moreover as part of all biological processes, including those associated with disease. Those released too unique to each of these processes. This means that for every disease there is a certain VOC “signature” or “fingerprint”.

Such VOCs associated with disease also come up quite a while before people are aware that something is wrong with them, and thus long before a doctor can perform any diagnostic technique, be it blood work, X-rays, tissue samples, or any other. research or laboratory work.

Many diseases, not least cancers, are much easier to treat the earlier they are diagnosed. So if researchers and clinicians are able to categorize the VOC fingerprint of various diseases, and engineers are able to develop devices that can quickly identify such fingerprints, it could potentially revolutionize medicine’s ability to treat diseases. to diagnose and ultimately treat.

As an added bonus, the lack of an invasive procedure of such a ‘sniff’ diagnosis means it would also be painless, unlike far too many existing diagnostic techniques.

This is the main idea behind the concept of the very young field of volatolomics, or analysis of all the VOCs that a person exhales in his breath or from his skin, sweat, tears, or even through some other bodily mechanism.

Although the field of volatolomics is new, the concept of diagnosing illness through sniffing one’s breath actually dates back to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and the legendary ancient Chinese physician Bian Que, and even in the past 50 years thousands of VOCs have been discovered. – fingerprints of diseases have been identified. But until now, we’ve lacked advanced diagnostic technologies to do much with this information.

What has led to the explosion of research into volatolomics in recent years is the development of exactly the kind of technologies, including data mining of huge amounts of data (“Big Data”), machine learning and nanomaterial sensors, that may quickly and identify these VOCs. fingerprints accurately in the face of enormous complexity and confounding factors such as the VOCs released from food, drink and environmental pollution, regardless of their physical sources.

“But the field is so young and it attracts researchers from many fields, such as chemistry, electrical engineering, computer science, materials science, and of course clinicians who deal with patients every day, who are not used to talking to each other, who generally use different methodologies and often don’t even use the same terms,” said Yun Qian, co-author of the review and researcher at Zhejiang University Cancer Center.

“So we’ve brought together some of us from these different disciplines to write a comprehensive review article that we hope will act as a bridge connecting each other’s expertise in this vast field.”

The authors first summarize all VOCs associated with various diseases from all possible physical sources in a kind of encyclopedia of volatile diseases.

“This part of the review was crucial, as such a list of targets is highly sought after by chemists, materials scientists and electrical engineers in particular,” added Mingshui Yao, another of the authors and researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Multiphase Complex Systems. with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

This shows a diagram from the study:
Scientists develop diagnostic device for identifying compounds unique to certain diseases. Credit: Nano Research, Tsinghua University Press

“They needed to know what the fingerprints or ‘biomarkers’ are for which they design their diagnostic equipment. Now they can just look this up.”

In addition, the review comments on the state of play of the technologies involved in volatolomic analysis, in particular advanced “electronic nose” (E-nose) and “photonic nose” (P-nose) devices for VOC detection.

In describing the current situation, the hurdles that developers of these “robot noses” face, and offering future perspectives, the reviewers aim to give both physicians an understanding of such advanced detection technologies and all volatolomics researchers an overview of where the key research gaps, thus enabling a narrowing of the still significant gap between laboratory bench and commercial application.

The authors hope that with the review as a point of reference for all involved, these gaps can be filled and obstacles to technological development overcome, especially with regard to better VOC-absorbing materials, selective sensing materials, advanced sensor structures and smart data processing methods.

Also see

This shows a young woman warming up for a run

The ultimate goal is to one day be able to use volatolomics as the gold standard in clinical diagnostics.

About this robotics research news

Author: Yao Meng
Source: Tsinghua University Press
Contact: Yao Meng – Tsinghua University Press
Image: The image is attributed to Nano Research, Tsinghua University Press

Original research: Closed access.
Volatolomics in Healthcare and Its Advanced Detection Technologyby Yun Qian et al. Nano-research


Volatolomics in Healthcare and Its Advanced Detection Technology

Various diseases increasingly put people’s health and quality of life to the test. Volatolomics emitted from patients are considered a potential family of markers, volatolomics, for diagnosis/screening. There are two fundamental problems of volatolomics in health care.

On the one hand, the solid relationship between the volatolome and specific diseases needs to be clarified and verified. On the other hand, effective methods should be explored for the precise detection of volatolomes. Several extensive review articles have been published in this area.

However, a timely and systematic summary and elaboration is still desirable. In this review article, the research methodology of volatolomics in health care is first critically considered and dispensed. Then the sets of volatolomes according to specific diseases through different body sources and the analytical tools for their identification are systematically summarized.

Third, the advanced electronic nose and photonic nose technologies for the detection of volatile organic compounds (VOC) have been well introduced. Existing obstacles and future prospects are deeply thought through and discussed.

This article could be a good guideline for researchers in this interdisciplinary field, not only understanding the very latest detection technologies for physicians (medical background), but also referring to the choice of targeted VOCs during the sensor research for chemists, materials scientists, electronics engineers, etc.

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