back to article Bomb sniffing “electric nose” turns cancer detector

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have used a device called the CyraNose 3200 to sniff out malignant mesothelioma, a nasty form of cancer often caused by exposure to asbestos. The CyraNose is a commercial device used to detect chemical vapours. Named for the legendarily-large-of-proboscis French writer, the …


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  1. John Geddes

    "accurate in 88% of cases"

    Come on Register: your readers expect something rather above the level of a Daily Mail article. What percentage of false-positives, and what percentage of false-negatives?

  2. Martin Budden Silver badge

    This is awesome.

    I can imagine a time when breath analysers are at the reception desk of every GP clinic: the receptionist asks you to breath into the thingamy, and by the time the doctor calls you through they have already seen a report of all sorts of diseases you have.

  3. James 51

    Could this be applied to urine samples too?

    If it works eventually technology like this could be available in GP practices and virtual eliminate the need to wait for results. Or if your being cared for in your own home on the spot results (assuming the kit is portable). Lots of potential, just needs teams like these to do all the grunt work first.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's known that dogs can detect certain cancers by smell.

    If they can analyse what odours the dogs are recognising they could train this machine. I wonder if it is as sensitive as a dog's nose.

    My dog has no nose...

    1. lawndart

      No, no, if it was malignant he would be humping your right leg, not the left.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This could get VERY interesting..

    There is this Uni hospital I know in the Netherlands which is smack in the middle of an area where heaps of people have worked for the local chemical plant. These guys have recently decided that they can comfortably hide behind the statue of limitations (30 years), despite in earlier years acknowledging that such cancers typically only show up beyond that time.

    I wonder if I could get the hospital to start a study of the ex employees who have not yet succumbed to the illness. In some people it progresses much slower, first it scars the lungs so they lose their effectiveness but do not yet fail - the cancer sometimes doesn't happen until much later (if it does, the unfortunate sufferer knows he'll be history in under 6 months, and it's a crap way to die).

    Might help the chemical plant to worry about government regulation if they continue to be creative..

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "it's a crap way to die"

      Not to contradict you or troll or anything, but that part of your paragraph sent to me thinking about death - and I have yet to think of a "good" way to die.

      Apart from in your sleep, I just don't see any.

      1. Vic

        Re: "it's a crap way to die"

        > I have yet to think of a "good" way to die.

        Vast quantities of Class As?


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "it's a crap way to die"

        OK, shaky semantics.

        What I meant to say is that you will have a very horrible time until you die. For some illnesses you get pallative care that involves managing the pain by keeping you nice and hazy until the end, but you cannot medicate way an inability to breath. That's also why smoking is such an evil thing to do to people - same end result, just takes longer.

      3. zb

        Re: "it's a crap way to die"

        You are clearly not Klingon

  6. Magani
    Thumb Up

    Hope springs eternal

    It would have been nice to read that this research had been sponsored by James Hardie & Co but I guess miracles aren't all that frequent these days.

    Kudos to the team that did it, though.

    1. Graham Wilson

      @Magani - Re: Hope springs eternal

      Yeah, in a way it's not surprising that it was invented here in Oz, given the country is 'Mesothelioma Central'.

      Damn Wittenoom, damn James Hardy and damn the government who knew as far back as 1912 that asbestos was extremely dangerous.

  7. Orv Silver badge

    Mesothelioma? Seems like an odd application

    What's the point of early diagnosis for an incurable disease? At best, it lets you agonize for longer about the fact you're going to die young. Not to mention making you uninsurable.

  8. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Note that the they did not *tell* the nose what to look for.

    It "learned" what to look for based on the test results between fit and ill patients.

    Which pretty much turns the usual approach of "find out what chemicals it produces and look for those"

    I'll guess if they dump it's memory they will actually find a *pattern* of above and below average chemical levels

    BTW mesothelioma has historically been *very* difficult to diagnose (except at autopsy, which is unhelpful for treatment) as it's not a "lump" tumor but attacks the sac enclosing the lung.

    While the idea of the DARPA "tricorder" is a bit far fetched (well they would not be DARPA if it was not near Mission:Impossible status) I think we are on the verge of a quiet revolution in non invasive diagnostics. Breath and pictures of the eye seem to be the front runners so far but I'll bet sweat, spit and urine can go *much* further than they have so far.

  9. Unicornpiss

    Danny Dunn Scientific Detective brought to life

    Amazing how Sci-fi, even children's sci-fi can predict the future... I remember reading this one when I was a kid. In this book, the professor invents an "electronic nose" with many of the properties that are being developed now...

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      Re: Danny Dunn Scientific Detective brought to life

      It's been a *long* time since I have been reminded of him.

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