Electronic nose can be used to detect early evidence of lung cancer

The electronic nose, a device long used for safety and quality control in the food, wine and perfume industries, also can be used to detect early evidence of lung cancer, according to research conducted at The Cleveland Clinic.

Known as the Cyranose, the electronic nose is a hand-sized device that uses biosensor technology to produce a "smellprint" of the volatile organic compounds that comprise human breath and other scents.

Led by Serpil Erzurum, M.D., chairman of the Department of Pathobiology at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute, researchers speculated the electronic nose could be used to detect and distinguish between lung diseases, particularly lung cancer. Testing their theory, they found the exhaled breath of lung cancer patients had specific characteristics that, in fact, could be detected with the device. Their findings will be published in the American Journal of Respiratory Medicine later this spring.

"Our work indicates that the electronic nose can be used as a non-invasive tool for the early diagnosis of lung cancer and to monitor the effectiveness of treatment on lung cancer patients," Dr. Erzurum said. "Use of the electronic nose could enable physicians to determine the appropriate course for a lung cancer patient's treatment at an earlier stage, rather than after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is more difficult to treat. The small, portable nature of the electronic nose also makes it easy to use in physician offices and outpatient settings."

In their study, Cleveland Clinic researchers examined the exhaled breath of 14 lung cancer patients and 45 healthy patients. The electronic nose was programmed to detect certain characteristics in breath and used algorithms to create patterns viewable on a computer screen. Researchers found the pattern characterizing the breath of lung cancer patients was distinctly different from that of healthy patients and of people with other lung diseases.

"Patients are frequently found to have shadows on chest X-rays or CT scans that may or may not represent lung cancer," said Peter Mazzone, M.D., a staff physician in the Clinic's Department of Pulmonary Allergy and a member of the study's research team. "Currently we rely on expensive imaging tests or invasive procedures with potential complications to determine whether these shadows represent cancer. An accurate, inexpensive and non-invasive test for lung cancer, such as the electronic nose, would be tremendously helpful."

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer in both men and women, and currently no screening guidelines exist for it, said Tarek Mekhail, director of the lung cancer medical oncology program at The Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center. "Given the impact early diagnosis can have on treatment and on patient survival, researchers will intensify their efforts to find an easy, non-expensive and reliable screening tool," Dr. Mekhail said.

The Cyranose is manufactured by Smiths Detection Inc. of Pasadena, Calif.

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