Indian researchers say they are close to developing an “electronic nose” to sniff out tuberculosis on the breath, offering rapid diagnosis that could save thousands of lives.
The “E-Nose” is a battery-operated handheld unit, similar to a police breathalyser used to catch drink drivers.
A patient blows into the device and sensors pick up TB signifiers in 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.
TB kills almost 1.7 million people every year, but the e-Nose could save 400,000 lives a year in developing countries through early diagnosis, treatment and reduced transmission.
“We hope to have a prototype ready for clinical testing by October 2013,” lead researcher Ranjan Nanda says.
“Our research shows it might also be possible to use this technology for the early detection of other diseases like lung cancer and pneumonia.”
While the E-Nose is a long way off commercialisation, it certainly highlights the need to develop new healthcare technologies for use in third world countries.