Sniffing out TB

Indian researchers said they were close to developing an electronic nose to sniff out tuberculosis on the breath – offering rapid diagnosis that could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

The E-Nose is a battery-operated, hand-held unit, similar to a police breathalyser used to catch drunk drivers.

A patient blows into the device and sensors pick up TB biomarkers in the breath droplets, resulting in an almost instantaneous and highly accurate diagnosis.

The E-Nose is a collaboration between the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi and Next Dimension Technologies in California.

Thousands of lives to be saved

"We hope to have a prototype ready for clinical testing by 2013," said lead researcher Ranjan Nanda.

TB kills close to 1.7 million people globally every year, and researchers estimate the E-Nose could save 400,000 lives a year in developing countries through early diagnosis, treatment and reduced transmission.

TB is currently detected through sputum tests that are costly and take several days.

On Monday, the project was awarded a R7 million grant by the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada, a non-profit organisation working on health issues in the developing world.

Battery operated

"Our research shows it might also be possible to use this technology for the early detection of other diseases like lung cancer and pneumonia," Nanda told AFP.

Each E-Nose would cost roughly R150-R237 and its size and battery operation would make it accessible to rural communities in countries such as India with poor or non-existent power supplies.

According to the World Health organisation, India leads the world in TB infections which kill close to 1,000 people every day.

"Our goal is to make the Electronic Nose widely available in poor, remote areas where tuberculosis often breeds and spreads, devastating so many lives," Nanda said.

Tuberculosis is a contagious bacterial infection that spreads through the air. If left untreated, each person with active TB will on average infect between 10 and 15 people every year, according to the WHO.

(AFP, November 2011) 

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