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'Electronic Nose' May Sniff Out High Infectious Bacteria

First Posted: Sep 01, 2014 10:21 AM EDT

There may be a new way to sniff out disease. Scientists have developed an "electronic nose" that can smell out the highly infectious bacteria, Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhea, temperature and stomach cramps in patients.

"The rapid detection and identification of the bug Clostridium difficile (often known as C. diff) is a primary concern in healthcare facilities," said Paul Monks, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Rapid and accurate diagnoses are important to reduce Clostridium difficile infections, as well as to provide the right treatment to infected patients. Delayed treatment and inappropriate antibiotics not only cause high morbidity and mortality, but also add costs to the healthcare system through lost bed days."

Different strains of C. difficile can cause different symptoms and may need to be treated differently. This means that developing a test that can tell the difference between them could mean improved healthcare.

In this case, the scientists showed that it's actually possible to "sniff" out C. diff. To do this, the scientists measured the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) given out by different strains of C. diff. They then showed that many of these strains had a unique "smell." More specifically, the scientists revealed that they could sniff out the different chemical fingerprints with the help of a mass spectrometer. They essentially created an electronic nose in order to help detect infection.

"Our approach may lead to a rapid clinical diagnostic test based on the VOCs released from fecal samples of patients infected with C. difficile," said Monks. "We do not underestimate the challenges in sampling and attributing C. difficile VOCs from fecal samples."

The findings could mean a new way to detect infection in patients. This, in turn, could mean that patients could receive faster and better targeted treatments, could result in faster recovery.

The findings are published in the journal Metabolomics.

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