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Electronic nose sniffs out prostate cancer


May 5, 2014

An electronic nose developed by Finnish researchers is capable of distinguishing between prostate cancer and benign disease and could result in a less invasive approach to diagnosis

An electronic nose developed by Finnish researchers is capable of distinguishing between prostate cancer and benign disease and could result in a less invasive approach to diagnosis

Typical approaches to diagnosing prostate cancer can be costly and invasive. Furthermore, a large number of prostate cancers are low-grade and won't result in symptoms or death, meaning that without necessarily extending it, aggressive forms of treatment can impact a sufferer's quality of life. In an attempt to establish a less invasive method of detecting the condition, Finnish researchers have developed an electronic nose capable of sniffing the patient's urine sample to distinguish between prostate cancer and benign disease.

The potential of smell as a diagnostics tool first emerged in the 1980s following reports of dogs capable of detecting cancer in their owners. Subsequent experimental studies demonstrated that indeed, trained sniffer dogs could detect cancer, though the value of this approach was questionable due to the unreliable performance of the canines. While a dog's role in sniffing out cancer is limited, it has provided inspiration for the development of various electronic sensors to serve the same purpose, such as that produced at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in 2010.

The ChemPro 100–eNose device developed by the researchers at the Department of Vascular Surgery, Tampere University Hospital in Finland uses a cluster of nonspecific sensors to produce a profile or "smell print." Citing preliminary data indicating the detection of malignancies was possible by sniffing the urine headspace, (space directly above a urine sample), the team conducted a clinical study comprising 65 patients.

Of that number, 50 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer via biopsy, while 15 had been diagnosed with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Using the eNose to examine the urine headspace of samples provided by the patients, the device demonstrated an ability to distinguish prostate cancer from BPH, correctly identified 78 percent of cancer sufferers and 67 percent of those with BPH. The researchers say these results are comparable to those produced by testing prostate specific antigen (PSA), a common approach to detecting the cancer.

The team is now hoping to conduct further studies to improve the technology so molecules behind the distinct odors can be accurately identified.

The research findings were published in The Journal of Urology.

Source: University of Tampere

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

PSA testing is the next thing to useless. There is a far more sensitive urine test being developed at the University of Surrey in the UK:


Speaking as someone who had to endure a needle biopsy (which is also sort of a shot in the dark) because their PSA is high, and doubtless will be invited to again, I am looking forward to the EN2 test reaching doctors in the US.

Bob Ehresman

Most people forget to ask for details of treatment before having a painful, invasive test. This goes for any test. I have not taken a test in years because I know the treatment negatives out weigh the danger. Prostate cancer takes so long to be fatal that most elderly die long before the cancer gets them.

But the doctor makes no money if you don't get the treatment so there is a conflict of interest.

Don Duncan
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