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Electronic nose may diagnose asthma

An "electronic nose" may one day be used to diagnose asthma, say scientists.

The nose is a newer version of a sensor used in the food, wine and perfume industries. It contains chemical vapours that react to volatile organic compounds found in a person's breath.

Scientists asked 20 people with diagnosed asthma and 20 people without asthma to breath into a facemask attached to the electronic nose.

The nose then generated "smell prints" which were analyzed and compared with standard smell patterns.

People with asthma generated significantly different smell prints from those who did not have asthma. But the nose was less accurate in differentiating between mild and severe asthma.

Study author Silvano Dragonieri, from Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, acknowledges that the electronic nose identified patients who had already been diagnosed with asthma.

"The next step is to see whether the nose can diagnose new patients with asthma," he adds.

"It is a futuristic device - one day different noses may be built to detect specific diseases."

American Thoracic Society