Tuberculosis: Developing A Breath Test

Take a whiff of this: Professor Joseph Stetter and researcher Bill Penrose from the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago have developed several prototypes of an electronic nose that could let doctors sniff out tuberculosis by its odor. One prototype is a cylinder about the size of a thimble with electronic sensors inside. Another is a vibrating crystal--it looks like a transparent dime--that absorbs bacteria from the air. Soon, the researchers intend to plant one of these tiny wonders in a tuberculosis-detecting breathalyzer: a small bag with a tube that you blow into.

The challenge is to make the artificial schnozz more sensitive. One way to do that, researchers say, is to take large, one-gallon breath samples and condense them into the cylinder, thus boosting sensitivity up to one-thousandfold.

The benefits of the "e-nose" could be huge: Penrose says it could slash diagnosis time from as much as six weeks now down to just 10 minutes. "You save the cost of keeping people confined to the hospital," he says, and get them quickly onto healing drugs.

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