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Electric Nose Used to Detect Aspergillus in Cancer Patients

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Systemic infections to various molds (fungi) such as Candida, Aspergillus, Cryptococcus and other molds cause over 20,000 deaths annually in the United States. At particular risk for life-threatening mold infections are immunocompromised patients such as chemotherapy treated cancer patients, patients with organ/bone marrow transplants on immunosuppressive drugs, HIV patients, and patients with severe malnutrition.

Systemic Aspergillus infections are fatal in 50 to 90% of all cases and cause over 2,000 deaths annually in the US. One difficulty in treating Aspergillus infection is that it is often difficult to diagnose the infection until the aspergillosis infection is advanced and the patient near death. Earlier aspergillosis diagnosis can allow for timely treatment with antifungal drugs and could save many lives. Most current tests for detecting aspergillosis involve either a lung biopsy (which is risky in most ill patients) or immunological testing for Aspergillus in blood or brocho-alveolar lavage (these immunological tests often miss the early stages of aspergillosis).
One promising new method for early detection of Aspergillus infections involves the use of an “electronic nose” which uses an array of 32 electronic sensors to detect volatile organic compounds produced by Aspergillus and other molds. Molds produce a wide range of volatile organic chemicals which are fairly specific to the genus and species of mold that produced them. A recent Netherlands study used this “electronic nose” to detect early stage aspergillosis in a group of 46 cancer patients with chemotherapy produced immunosuppression. Eleven of these patients developed symptoms suggestive of early aspergillosis (such as fever) and their breath was tested for aspergillosis. The results were good, with the electronic nose detecting 5 of 5 patients with aspergillosis correctly, while not detecting aspergillosis in 5 of 6 patients without Aspergillus infections. Further study of such an “electronic nose” to detect Aspergillus infections is warranted.

Koen de Heer et al. Electronic nose technology for detection of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis in prolonged chemotherapy-induced neutropenia- a proof of concept study. Journal of Clinical Microbiology, 2013, In Press.



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