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Electronic 'Nose' May Note Asthma

Experts Working on Device to Help Diagnose Asthma Based on Patients' Breath

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

May 21, 2007 -- European researchers today announced early success in their efforts to build an electronic "nose" to help diagnose asthma.

The experimental device measures volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in patients' exhaled breath.

"A person's breath contains a mixture of thousands of VOCs that may be used as markers of lung disease," says Silvano Dragonieri, MD, in an American Thoracic Society (ATS) news release.

Dragonieri works at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

Today in San Francisco, at the ATS' 2007 International Conference, Dragonieri's team presented findings on their preliminary tests on the device.

The scientists studied 10 patients with severe asthma, 10 patients with mild asthma, and 20 people without asthma. Participants breathed into a bag that funneled their exhaled breath into the electronic nose.

The electronic nose looked for certain VOC patterns in participants' exhaled breath. The researchers call those VOC patterns "smellprints," like chemical fingerprints in the breath.

The device could distinguish between the exhaled breath of the asthma patients from the participants without asthma. But it was less accurate at gauging asthma severity.

The device isn't ready for use in diagnosing asthma.

"The asthmatic patients in this study already had been diagnosed with asthma. The next step is to see whether the nose can diagnose new patients with asthma," says Dragonieri.

Dragonieri notes that "one day, different electronic noses may be built to detect specific diseases."

SOURCES: American Thoracic Society's 2007 International Conference, San Francisco, May 18-23, 2007. News release, American Thoracic Society.

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