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'Electronic Nose' Sniffs Out Asthma
Date:4/7/2010

Experimental device tracks compounds in breath and bested standard test, study found

WEDNESDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- Using an artificial breath-sensor system dubbed the "electronic nose," Italian researchers were able to spot more cases of asthma than with traditional diagnostic tools.

The electronic nose detected nearly 90 percent of people with asthma compared to about 70 percent who were accurately diagnosed in the traditional way with lung function tests, according to new research published in the April issue of the journal Chest.

When combined with another test, called the fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FENO) test, the electronic nose did an even better job at detecting asthma, the study found.

"The electronic nose discriminates between patients with asthma and healthy subjects and its performance is increased when combined with FENO," wrote the Italian team led by Dr. Paolo Montuschi of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome.

The device works by identifying volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in exhaled breath. These VOCs produce a unique smell print for each individual and specific patterns are seen in people with asthma.

The new study included 27 people with intermittent or mild persistent asthma and 24 healthy people. None of the study volunteers had a history of smoking. Those with asthma had a history of allergies, and none had been treated with corticosteroids for at least four weeks prior to the start of the study.

Currently, asthma is diagnosed "based on your medical history and symptoms, and with spirometry (lung function testing) and exhaled nitric oxide," said Dr. Thomas Leath, director of allergy and immunology at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas.

The Italian researchers wanted to compare the electronic nose to the other commonly used tests -- spirometry and FENO -- to see which test was best at confirming a diagnos
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