Researchers at the University of Bari in Italy, tested an electronic nose to see if it could sniff out exhaled breath composition of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) from healthy controls – with the potential of the nose someday becoming a screening and diagnostic tool for the disease.
The research paper, titled “An electronic nose may sniff out amyotrophic lateral sclerosis”, was published in Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology.
Progressive lung function impairment can occur in advanced ALS due to the degeneration of motor neurons that stimulate respiratory muscles. Eventually, respiratory failure can cause death.
The diagnosis of ALS is difficult, as it requires a combination of complex procedures that simply exclude other diseases. A non-invasive and cost-effective diagnostic test is currently not available. But, exhaled breath contains thousands of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be used to identify airway inflammation and respiratory diseases.
The recent study concerning the nose for ALS diagnosis included 2 groups of subjects: patients with an established diagnosis of ALS and a healthy control group. Exhaled breath was collected and samples were analyzed by the electronic nose.
The resulting “breathprints” acquired in the study clearly distinguished ALS patients from healthy controls. But, the scientists point to two major limitations: the small number of participants and the possible influence of ALS-specific medications in the breath profile of patients.
Researchers concluded: “After optimization and validation, electronic noses have the potential to become a cost-effective, quick and non-invasive diagnostic tool for ALS. Their ideal application would be as screening devices (with maximal sensitivity) aimed to exclude ALS among subjects with clinical suspicion.”
The electronic nose device that identified the VOCs in ALS patients, might also be used for Alzheimer’s Disease and schizophrenia.