New Melanoma Test Sniffs Out Skin Cancer Based on Odor Alone

We've known for awhile that certain illnesses can have a very, er, special smell for the olfactory-inclined, but even us humans (with the help of smell-sensitive technology) could soon be diagnosing diseases with nothing but our nose. Thanks to a nanotechnology-based sensor, we're now able to differentiate between normal skin cells and melanoma cells based entirely on scent.

Developed by scientists in Philadelphia at the Monell Chemical Sense Center, the non-invasive procedure takes the airborne molecules found in human skin's odor and analyzes them for any traces of melanoma's specific chemical signature. All a doctor needs is a small, portable testing device, and they'd be able to quickly and painlessly measure a cell's organic compounds, determining whether or not it might be malignant.

The real benefit of this kind of test, though, comes in the fact that it could detect traces of melanoma far earlier than current methods, which mainly rely on visual exams and biopsies. And with melanoma being notoriously difficult to catch early—not to mention that it's the cause of three-fourths of all deaths related to skin cancer—this could be a phenomenal advancement as far as improving a patient's odds of survival.

It's also just one of many new alternative diagnostic methods that have been coming to light. For instance, a recent study out of the University of Pittsburgh revealed that a type of breathalyzer might soon be able to diagnose diabetes in patients. Using carbon nanotubes and a chemical compound, researchers were able to detect the increased levels of acetone on their breath by measuring the vapors under ultraviolet light. Even H1N1 has recently received the breath-test treatment, this one measuring levels of nitric oxide, which is closely linked to viral infections.

Basically, all these new odorous tests mean that we are well on our way to a world where not only will we be able to catch melanoma—along with a whole host of other diseases and festering contagions—sooner and thus treat it more effectively, but we'll be able to do so in a non-invasive manner. And knowing that their diagnosis will come painlessly and, even more importantly, cheaply will be a huge step in getting people into doctors' offices earlier and, consequently, saving lives. [Quad-City Times]

Image: Shutterstock/Robert Kneschke