Scientists “Sniff Out” Skin Cancer with the Wave of a Wand

A rapid, non-invasive test for skin cancer may allow rapid and early diagnosis through “odor profiling”. Just like in the Star Trek series, scientists from the American Chemical Society have developed a scanner that can be waved above the skin to “sniff out” odors given off by suspicious cells, even before skin changes develop. The findings were presented at the of the American Chemical Society’s 236th national meeting.

Michelle Gallagher, Ph.D., and colleagues, took their cues from the ability of trained dogs to detect skin tumors by way of their different odor. Dr. Gallagher, an analytical chemist who conducted the study while working as a post-doctoral researcher says, "Researchers have speculated that tumors give off different odors, but we're the first to identify and quantify the compounds involved in skin cancer odors. This research opens doors to potential new approaches to skin cancer diagnosis based on the profile of skin odors, hopefully leading to more rapid and non-invasive detection and diagnosis of this prevalent disease." Dr. Gallagher is now a chemist at Rohm and Haas in Spring House, Penn.

The chemists took samples of the air above the tumors of eleven patients diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, using advanced chromatography, comparing the results to eleven individuals without skin cancer. They were able to then analyze the difference in chemicals between the two samples. Dr. Gallagher says, "The same chemicals are present, but at skin cancer sites some chemicals are increased, while others are decreased compared to healthy individuals."

The development of a reliable odor profile for squamous cell cancer as well as melanoma is planned by the researchers. The wand-like "E-nose” (that beeps when odor changes are detected), could eliminate the need for currently used methods of biopsy for skin cancer diagnosis.

The non-invasive tool, if successful for sensing melanoma, would prove life saving. In instances of skin cancers that are more easily treated-for example, with topical agents-the pain of surgical biopsy would be eliminated.

Source: First detection of 'odor profile' for skin cancer may lead to rapid, noninvasive diagnostic test