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New Scent Device Sniffs Out Early Signs of Bladder Cancer

Update Date: Jul 08, 2013 05:03 PM EDT

A new scent device could help diagnose patients with early signs of bladder cancer.

British scientists from the University of Liverpool and University of the West of England have invented a device that can sniff out odors in urine associated with bladder cancer.

Researchers explain that there are currently no reliable biomarkers to screen patients for bladder cancer in the same way that there are for breast and cervical cancers. Past studies revealed that trained dogs could detect a particular urine odor associated with bladder cancer. Those studies suggest that methods of diagnosing bladder cancer could be based on the smell of certain gases.

The new device called ODOREADER contains a sensor that responds to chemicals in gas emitted from urine. The device analyzes this gas and produces a "profile" of the chemicals in urine that can be used to diagnose the presence of cancer cells in the bladder.

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 72,750 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with bladder cancer.  Bladder cancer forms in tissues of the bladder, the organ that stores urine.  While most bladder cancers are transitional cell carcinomas (cancer that begins in cells that normally make up the inner lining of the bladder), other types include squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in thin, flat cells) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).

Researchers said that bladder cancer can be treated effectively if it is caught early.

"It is a disease that, if caught early, can be treated effectively, but unfortunately we do not have any early screening methods other than diagnosis through urine tests at the stage when it starts to become a problem," Professor Chris Probert, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, said in a news release.

The ODOREADER takes approximately 30 minutes to analyze a urine sample and provide a diagnosis on the computer screen.

"It is thought that dogs can smell cancer, but this is obviously not a practical way for hospitals to diagnose the disease. Taking this principle, however, we have developed a device that can give us a profile of the odor in urine. It reads the gases that chemicals in the urine can give off when the sample is heated," Professor Norman Ratcliffe, from the Institute of Biosensor Technology at UWE Bristol, said in a statement.

Researchers looked at 98 samples of urine to develop the device.  They tested the device on 24 patient samples known to have cancer and 74 samples that have urological symptoms, but no cancer.  The findings revealed that the device correctly assigned 100 percent of cancer patients.

"Bladder cancer is said to be the most expensive cancer to treat, due to repeated scopes to inspect the development of the cancer cells in the bladder. ODOREADER ® has the potential to dramatically cut these costs by preventing scopes," Probert added.

"These results are very encouraging for the development of new diagnostic tools for bladder cancer, but we now need to look at larger samples of patients to test the device further before it can be used in hospitals," he concluded.

The findings are published in the journal PLoS ONE.

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