Written by: Meghna KT
All it takes is a breath to detect anything! Scientists have been researching on non-invasive methods to detect a particular disease. For all those out there who fear pointy needles and injections, this is a treat for you! Scientists might have created a diagnostic instrument called the ‘Electronic Nose’.
‘Electronic Nose’- The name sounds funny. How can the nose be electronic? Can machines smell?
The story of the ENOSE
Like every other story of scientific discoveries, the ENOSE has its own story. Newton observed the apple fall from a tree and questioned the phenomena. In 1914, Bell had some unanswered questions too!
“Did you ever measure a smell? Can you tell whether one smell is just twice strong as another? Can you measure the difference between two kinds of smell?
It is very obvious that we have many different kinds of smells, all the way from the odour of violets and roses up to asafetida. But until you can measure their likeness and differences, you can have no science of odour. If you are ambitious to find a new science, measure a smell.”
— Alexander Graham Bell, 1914
That’s when the E-NOSE began to take shape as an instrument. It was in the 1950’s that actual advancements in the field of the Electronic Nose began though. Professor Julian Gardner from University of Warwick developed the first version of the E-NOSE. He used it to detect the odours in an industrial environment. He engineered the Electronic Nose to mimic the human nose.
A little about the ‘E-NOSE’
Have you seen the fancy alcohol breath analysers which the Police roam around with? Well, the E-NOSE is somewhat similar to an alcohol breath analyser. All one has to do, is breathe into the instrument – and this non-invasive device can detect any kind of disease like COPD, TB and various varieties of Cancer.
The Electronic Nose consists of a small chamber containing a series of gas sensors. Researchers say that a person infected with any disease has distinct compounds in his/her breath, called Bio-markers. Any pathological or physiologic disease can be identified using these Bio-markers. The E-NOSE sensors are designed in such a way that they can detect any of these compounds, thereby helping detect diseases in a harmless manner.
The E-NOSE primarily, has three parts:
1. Sample delivery system
2. Detection system
3. Computing system
The samples are either sputum or exhaled breaths of a person which blown over the sensors. The sensors detect the bio-markers and the computer screen displays them.
Industrial existence of the E-NOSE
The E-NOSE is a portable device – The concept of which, is not new to the industrial environment. One can find the E-NOSE device in paper mills, nuclear reactors and even in space shuttles! Furthermore, the Army uses it as a tool for bomb detection.
E-NOSE finds a major application in the food industry where they prove to be far more sensitive to gases than the human nose.
E-NOSE vs The Traditional Method
The common method used for testing, say a disease like Tuberculosis, is the blood sample or the sputum sample test. In case of COPD and Asthma, it is Lung/Pulmonary Function test.
The major problem with all these tests is ‘sensitivity’. Even though modern equipments have been able to get close to accurate results, the method is still really complex.
The sensors used in the Electronic Nose are calibrated with high precision. It also gives an added advantage of modern hardware and techniques in order to detect diseased efficiently. The E-Nose thus provides a low-cost and efficient method which can be used to screen a large audience, in a much shorter duration of time.
A Working Prototype: Cyranose 320
After nine years of research, the Cyrano Sciences in Pasadena, California developed the world’s first portable E-NOSE. The device was considered a breakthrough in the history of medical diagnosis. It detected COPD and many other medical conditions accurately, and much faster than other widely used instruments.
The success of Cyranose has also helped it find an application in major industries. They are used for quality control and to keep a check on contamination.
Aeonose: A Greek Mythological Tale
The E-NOSE Company named this device Aeonose as a reference to the mythological Greek God Aeolus. Aeolus stored winds in a cave and let some of them out in periodic time intervals. He did it to prevent bad incidents from occurring. He also supplied tail wind to speed up some processes.
Aeonose is a highly technical instrument which is currently being used in the medical diagnosis field. The E-NOSE Company produced excellent results in the detection of gastroenteritis, head and neck cancer, Tuberculosis and much more with the help of Aeonose. They validated the results by running successful tests trials in countries like Venezuela, Paraguay, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa and Bangladesh.
How E-Nose Communicates in real time
E-NOSEs that are linked together in a perimeter, form a network. When connected wirelessly to a remote computer system, it captures distant signals. A software agent immediately sends an alert signal when the E-NOSE detects a change in the composition of the air.
Today, various industries use Mobile E-NOSEs with an inbuilt GPS transmitter. Call-out services use it in factory areas during incidents for emission source tracking and tracing.
The Electronic Nose has come a far way and will probably continue to surprise us with more Eureka moments in the near future!