Sniffing out Bladder Cancer – new diagnostic test

Issue date: 09 July 2013


Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), the University of Liverpool and the Bristol Urological Institute have developed a device using sensor technology that may help diagnose patients with early signs of bladder cancer. The Odoreader® smells urine and detects differences in the odour from people who have bladder cancer.

The researchers have been working on Odoreader® for the past four years. The device contains a sensor which responds to chemicals in gas emitted from urine. Odoreader® analyses this gas and produces a 'profile' of the chemicals in urine that can be read by scientists to diagnose the presence of cancer cells in the bladder. The research team is also using Odoreader® to determine differences in odours from the urine of men with prostate cancer.

There are currently no reliable biomarkers to screen patients for bladder cancer in the same way that there are for breast and cervical cancers.

Professor Norman Ratcliffe from the Institute of Biosensor Technology at UWE Bristol said, “It is thought that dogs can smell cancer, but this is obviously not a practical way for hospitals to diagnose the disease. Taking this principle, however, we have developed a device that can give us a profile of the odour in urine. It reads the gases that chemicals in the urine can give off when the sample is heated.

“Odoreader® works by inserting a bottle containing the urine sample into the device. About 30 minutes later the Odoreader® is capable of showing the diagnosis on the computer screen if sample derives from a patient with bladder cancer. It is simple to use and could be operated in a doctor's surgery.”

Professor Chris Probert, from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, explains, “Each year approximately 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bladder cancer. It is a disease that, if caught early, can be treated effectively, but unfortunately we do not have any early screening methods other than diagnosis through urine tests at the stage when it starts to become a problem.

“We looked at 98 samples of urine to develop the device, and tested it on 24 patient samples known to have cancer and 74 samples that have urological symptoms, but no cancer. The device correctly assigned 100% of cancer patients.

“Bladder cancer is said to be the most expensive cancer to treat, due to repeated scopes to inspect the development of the cancer cells in the bladder.

“These results are very encouraging for the development of new diagnostic tools for bladder cancer, but we now need to look at larger samples of patients to test the device further before it can be used in hospitals.”

Odoreader® is a result of successful four year collaboration between Professor Chris Probert's medical team who were previously based at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, and a team of scientists led by Professor Norman Ratcliffe at UWE Bristol who provided the technical expertise on electronic nose technology.

The work, which was partly funded by the Bristol Rotary Club, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Click here to view further images of the Odoreader®.

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