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Creating an 'electronic nose' to sniff out tuberculosis from a patient's breath

A new hand-held device called the Electronic Nose, which has the potential to diagnose tuberculosis (TB) in symptomatic patients, was awarded a $950,000 grant from Grand Challenges Canada and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today to support further development and testing of this ground-breaking technology.

The funding will help determine whether the Electronic Nose is able to detect TB immediately and non-invasively from the patient's breath, in order to replace time-consuming testing with sputum.

It is estimated that up to 400,000 lives a year can be saved in the developing world by early diagnosis, immediate treatment and reduced transmission of this killer disease.

TB has been all but eliminated in the developing world, but in poor countries it claims close to 1.7 million lives yearly and is second only to HIV/AIDs as the world's most deadly infectious disease.

"This important discovery is testimony to the power of innovation to save lives," said Dr. Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. "Diagnosing TB and other pulmonary disease simply by testing a patient's breath is a bold idea with potentially big impact."

The development of the Electronic Nose is a collaboration between the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, India, and Next Dimension Technologies in California. The New Delhi innovators are working with sensors developed in California to track biomarkers in the breath. Those biomarkers may hold promise to identify TB disease, leading to earlier diagnosis and improved patient treatment.

"We hope to take the concept of the Electronic Nose to the next level by developing and testing a prototype of the hand-held, battery-powered device," said Prof. Virander Chauhan and Dr. Ranjan Nanda, lead researchers. "Our goal is to make the Electronic Nose widely available in poor, remote areas where tuberculosis often breeds and spreads, devastating so many lives."

Scientists say Electronic Noses could also be created for early detection of lung cancer and pneumonia, based on signature biomarkers of that disease detectable in a patient's breath.

"Grand Challenges Explorations aims to tackle critical health and development challenges by funding creative, high-risk concepts that show the greatest potential for impact," said Chris Wilson, Director of Global Health Discovery at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "With this additional phase of funding, we're excited to move the most promising projects closer to products that could ultimately save millions of lives."

"Imagine detecting tuberculosis through a person's breath and the number of people who can be saved," said Joseph L. Rotman, Chair of Grand Challenges Canada. "We are pleased to support this discovery and, through Grand Challenges Canada's Integrated Innovation approach, to ensure rapid patient utilization and commercialization, so that the Electronic Nose is available, cost-effectively."

Contact: Terry Collins
McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health

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Creating an 'electronic nose' to sniff out tuberculosis from a patient's breath
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