Researchers have discovered that smelling human faeces with an ‘electronic nose’ can aid in detecting bacteria which causes deadly infections.
It was possible for an electronic nose to sniff out whether the killer hospital superbug Clostridium difficile or C-diff was present in the faeces of patients, as well as its variety. This is due to the different strains of the bacteria releasing chemicals which smell differently.
The tests available currently examine the symptoms and search the faeces for any toxins which may suggest that C-diff is present, instead of sniffing out the actual bug.
One of the researchers at the University of Leicester, Professor Paul Monks, said that electronic noses could be attached to the bedpan washers to screen patients. He said the smelling process will allow the differentiation between good and bad strains of C-diff.
The team have shown that it is possible to do this in the lab and the next step is to test it in bedpans.
He said the e-nose can be attached to the side of bedpan washers as the cycle commences, it will sniff it and potentially give a warning that the patient should be checked.
C-diff could lead to more serious infections, which cause diarrhoea, high temperatures and stomach cramps. It is resistant to most antibiotics and could result in death.
During 2012, there were 1646 deaths in Britain caused by C-diff. The number of cases has declined, but new bacterial strains have shown up in recent years which cause more severe infections.
C-diff screening could save the NHS huge amounts of money if it is not necessary for patients to be hospitalised for long periods of time.
Scientists have succeeded in calculating the ‘chemical fingerprint’ of the compounds linked with the various strains of the bug and the e-nose is able to detect the different strains.
Scientists are currently investigating whether electronic noses could be utilised in the detection of cancer, by locating the unique smell of the chemicals associated with the disease.
Knowing which strain of the bacteria was causing the illness would allow medical professionals to offer the patient more targeted treatment options.
Image Credit: UCL Mathematical and Physical Sciences