Would be able to identify the smell of people in your life? Your mom? Your Lover? We don’t mean their perfume, cologne, or favorite deodorant, we mean their SMELL.
Every single one of us has an “odor imprint,” a unique smell made up of thousands of organic components. These tiny compounds reveal a lot about us, including our age, sex, genetics, lifestyle, and even metabolic processes that define our state of physical health.
Physicians noses are not a precise instrument and dogs get easily distracted by the multitude of smells around them – even though our four-legged companions are able to sniff out cancer – so researchers are developing an inexpensive machine able to diagnose an illness quickly and effectively using smell. Well, we might be at the brink of witnessing the initiative’s success.
Billy Boyler, co-founder and president of operations at Owlstone, a manufacturer of chemical sensors in Cambridge, UK sees a convergence in technology today, enabling large-scale studies and data gathering to demonstrate odor analysis’ efficacy. Owlstone was founded in 2004 and has now raised $23.5 million in funds for its research and development of odor analysis technology and make it available to clinicians.
The sensor is made up of a silicon chip layered with various metal parts and small gold electrodes. It looks a bit like a SIM card, but with the potency of a chemical filter. The molecules of a smell are first ionized, given a charge, and then sifted to only scope out the ones of diagnostic interest through the funnels etched in the chip, in which they can be detected and identified. You can program the sensor to detect what you want by replacing the software.
Britain’s National Health Service is funding a 3.000 patient clinical trial to test Owlstone’s device to detect lung cancer, while, in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the company is conducting a 1.400 subject trial to identify colon cancer in urine samples.
It is estimated that tools such as Owlstone’s will be widely available in three to five years’ time, revolutionizing clinicians’ diagnosis of critical illnesses and helping the health industry to quickly and efficiently treat patients before it’s too late. Researchers are competing intensely in this field and it has massive potential to save lives.

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