Sniffing out an illness

Scientists at the University of Southampton have received €450,000 to develop a new method to detect disease without human aid.


Scientists at the University of Southampton are developing a new method to detect disease without human aid.



Professor Hywel Morgan at the University’s School of Electronics & Computer Science (ECS) and Dr Peter Roach at the School of Chemistry and their team have received a €450,000 European grant to create a system that can detect single molecules in biological solutions.



They are using variants of molecules found in biology and creating “senses” from electrical charges caused by the binding of the molecules to mimic the human nose. With this approach, the sensitivity of the device can be a thousand times better than the currently available electronic nose.



The receptors, which will be housed within an artificial membrane, remain in a closed steady state until approached by smell molecules, when they will open and transmit an electrical signal that will indicate the nature of the odour.



Professor Morgan commented: ‘Many medical diseases involve odour. A device such as ours could measure different hormones, diagnose diseases and even sniff for traces of explosives.



‘Most odours are still mapped by humans. If we can find a way to replace this function with technology, we could use odour detection in many new areas.’