Device sniffs out stomach bugs

Testing has begun on a device that can ‘sniff out’ the presence of disease, thanks to a £1.3m award from the Wellcome Trust.

OdoReader, developed by Prof Chris Probert from Bristol University and Norman Ratcliffe from the University of the West of England, rapidly diagnoses Clostridium difficile by ‘reading’ the odour of stool samples.

Clostridium difficile may cause severe diarrhoea, especially among hospitalised patients.

With the help of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, the technology enables gasses emitted from faeces to be analysed in less than an hour, leading to a rapid and inexpensive diagnosis.

Such early detection could reap real health benefits for millions of people and help prevent the spread of infectious disease.

Gastro-intestinal diseases afflict more than four billion adults and children each year.

Delays in diagnosis can lead to patients being ill for longer, some may die, many will cost more to treat and infections may spread to other people.

In England and Wales there are more than 50,000 cases of Clostridium difficile each year: this infection prolongs hospitalisation, is associated with high morbidity and mortality and costs the NHS £200m annually.

The £1.3m Wellcome Trust Translation Award will cover a three-year programme of work starting in January 2010.

It will support the development of OdoReader prototypes, which will then be tested against the industry ‘gold standard’ method of making the diagnosis.

The final product will undergo a clinical trial before becoming available for commercialisation in 2012/13.

Chris Probert, professor of gastroenterology at Bristol University, and consultant gastroenterologist at University Hospitals Bristol, said: ‘For a long time it has been known that stools have a distinctive and different odour if there is an infection.

‘What OdoReader does is take this knowledge a step further by comparing the odour of faeces of patients with those from patients with specific gastro-intestinal disease to make a rapid diagnosis at point of care.’

Prof Norman Ratcliffe from the University of the West of England added: ‘We expect OdoReader to be a portable device for the diagnosis of Clostridium difficile, however it has potential far beyond that – it could be used for a range of other gastrointestinal diseases as well as lung and urinary-tract diseases too.’