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Device can sniff out bladder cancer


A device that can sniff out early signs of bladder cancer has been developed by British scientists. The Odoreader smells urine and detects differences in the odour from people who have bladder cancer in just 30 minutes.

Around 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer each year but there are currently no reliable biomarkers to screen patients for the disease, unlike in breast or cervical cancers. This means the cancer is first diagnosed through urine tests at a stage when it starts to become a problem. But researchers believe the Odoreader, which has a 100% success rate, could lead to the development of early diagnostic tests.

Professor Norman Ratcliffe from the Institute of Biosensor Technology at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) said: “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 odour in urine. It reads the gases that chemicals in the urine can give off when the sample is heated.

“Odoreader works by inserting a bottle containing the urine sample into the device. About 30 minutes later the Odoreader is capable of showing the diagnosis on the computer screen if sample derives from a patient with bladder cancer. It is simple to use and could be operated in a doctor’s surgery.”

Researchers from the UWE Bristol, the University of Liverpool and Bristol Urological Institute have spent four years developing the Odoreader. The device contains a sensor that responds to chemicals in gas emitted from urine. Odoreader, whose funding was partly provided by the Bristol Rotary Club, analyses this gas and produces a profile of the chemicals in the urine.

Scientists are then able to read the profile to diagnose the presence of cancer cells in the bladder. The research team is also using Odoreader to determine differences in odours from the urine of men with prostate cancer.

Professor Chris Probert, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine, said: “Each year approximately 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer. 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.

“We looked at 98 samples of urine to develop the device, and tested it on 24 patient samples known to have cancer and 74 samples that have urological symptoms, but no cancer. The device correctly assigned 100% 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.

“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.”