Gates open to e-nose project

Delhi-based biologists on Monday received $1 million funding from Bill Gates foundation to develop the science behind e-nose technology within two years. The hand-held, battery-powered electronic nose is something similar to the breathalyser used by the police to catch drunk drivers. But scientifically it will be far more complicated because a portfolio of eight or nine molecules may be used for the TB diagnosis.

“The preliminary data suggests that one can differentiate between a tuberculosis patient and a healthy person on the basis of a set of biomarkers in the breath. But we have to fully understand the signature of the biomarkers before a prototype is made,” V S Chauhan, director of International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), told Deccan Herald. The electronic nose is a collaboration between the ICGEB and California-based company, Next Dimension Technologies, which will make the sensors based on research.

Those biomarkers hold promise to identify TB quickly leading to earlier diagnosis and improved patient treatment.

Early diagnosis is one of the necessities to treat tuberculosis, which claims close to 1.7 million lives year mostly in the developing world.

TB is currently diagnosed by sputum test and culture, which requires two to six weeks for primary isolation and another few weeks for drug sensitivity study, which is not possible in smaller labs. Even though there are rapid blood tests available in the market, the World Health Organisation has recently asked doctors to stop using these tests because they frequently give wrong results.

The ICGEB team headed by Ranjan Nanda will first establish the scientific principle after the Californian firm makes the prototype. “We hope to validate the science within two years after which the electronic nose will be put to trial,” Chauhan said.

The project received initial funding from the department of biotechnology after which it was selected for the first round funding of $ 100,000 from the foundation set up by the former information technology czar to prove the concept.

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