A medical team based at Germany’s University Hospital of Jena has created an artificial nose for the purpose of “smelling” heart disease. The system works by being constructed to detect slight differences in odor molecules on a prepped portion of a subject’s skin.
The team presented its findings about just how well this thing whiffed chronic heart disease at a conference of the European Cardiology Society last week (August 29, 2011).
The experts involved say they’re eager to find an effective, speedy and non-invasive way of sorting heart failure patients. To that end, they said, their nose is able to sort “compensated” vs. “decompensated” heart failure in study subjects with a high degree of accuracy. Translation: the nose can sort a bad heart condition from a really bad heart condition, which is something that can be challenging without using invasive medical procedures.
This electronic nose doesn’t really look like a nose, but these medical experts said that it works like one. What does it look like? Here’s an illustration from the European Society of Cardiology.
According to MedicalXpress:
The “electronic nose” system consists of an array of three thick-film metal oxide based gas sensors with heater elements. Each of the sensors has a slightly different sensitivity to various odorant molecular types. Interactions between molecules and the sensor are caused by reactions with oxygen on the heated sensor surface leading to a change of the free charge carrier concentrations and thus to a change in conductivity in the metal oxide layer. The odor components are divided by a statistical analysis into two principal components.
In other words, the nose sniffs out gases, but scientists aren’t sure, as yet, exactly what the nose was smelling, in tests, when it divided …
… the patients with decompensated heart failure [from those with] compensated heart failure with 89 percent sensitivity and 88 percent specificity.
To find out more, the team will have to look closely at the laboratory parameters the nose measured for heart failure, which include things like minerals, creatinine, and blood gas analysis. They’ll also be looking at clinical history and the exercise stress test results of their subjects.
The experts involved say they’re eager to find an effective, speedy, non-invasive way of sorting heart failure patients. Heart failure is a common condition – around 6 percent of those over the age of 65 suffer from it. Mostly due to costs of hospitalization, it is “associated with high health expenditure.” That is, it costs individuals and society lots of money to keep heart patients well.
Our sense of smell is primal and powerful. Maybe that’s why it feels like the new electronic “nose” – invented by this German medical team – is merely catching up to natural history.
Bottom line: A medical team at Germany’s University Hospital of Jena invented an artifial “nose” for the purpose of detecting heart disease. The team presented its findings at a conference of the European Cardiology Society last week (August 29, 2011).
Beth Lebwohl researches, writes and helps produce science content in audio and video formats for EarthSky. She is one of the authors on EarthSky.org, a script-writer for our podcasts, and helps host our English science podcasts in 90-second, 8-minute and 22-minute formats. Beth came to EarthSky in 2006 from the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Astrophysics, where she was surrounded by some of the greatest telescope-building, equation-wielding, code-writing physicists of our time. And they made her think . . . this science thing . . . it's pretty cool.