Oct. 5, 2001 Students at Illinois Institute of Technology have developed a unique sensing technology that will allow doctors to detect and identify pathogens in the blood much faster than conventional lab tests can. The sensing device, known as an electronic nose, is an array of small sensors that can detect gases given off by microscopic organisms including bacteria that can infect the blood such as e. coli and staphylococcus bacteria. The sensors are linked to a computer that can analyze the gas signature and compare it to signatures from known pathogens. Currently, labs use methods which can take up to 48 hours to identify pathogens in the blood. IIT's electronic nose can cut the time to 24 hours.
The results of the student-led study at IIT will be published in the September 30 issue of the Journal of Microbiology.
Electronic noses are arrays of sensors that are sensitive to microscopic particles, much like the receptors inside your nose. “There are millions of neurons that bind molecules in the nose that the brain recognizes as specific odors,” says Christopher Morong, a senior at IIT who co-authored the paper and a Burbank, Ill. native. "The e-nose is the same way, except it only has eight sensors, but it still has the potential to identify hundreds of specific scent signatures." Electronic noses that can identify the presence of the tuberculosis bacteria are also in development at IIT.
The blood sniffing e-nose was developed by students in IIT’s Interprofessional Program (IPRO), which brings together students from different disciplines at different experience levels to solve a problems posed by companies or IIT faculty. Morong is going into his fourth year as a chemistry and physics major at IIT. He first got involved with the e-nose project through joining the e-nose IPRO as a freshman. Morong helped develop the software that runs the e-nose and is responsible for pattern recognition.
The e-nose was developed in response to lab technicians at Provident Hospital of Cook County in Chicago who noticed that when testing blood for pathogens, there would often be certain odors that were strongly linked to the type of pathogen they would find. If they could definitively link the odors to a type of pathogen, they could cut testing time down. To test blood for pathogens, lab technicians have to culture the blood for 24 hours, allowing any bacteria in it to grow to detectable levels. Then, the culture is tested for specific pathogens. The whole process takes about 48 hours. "Ultimately, we’d like to be able to take blood from a patient, and use the e-nose to sniff out the pathogens right away," says Morong. "But without growing the pathogen up, its hard to detect any gases."
Illinois Institute of Technology is a private, Ph.D.-granting university with programs in engineering, science, psychology, architecture, business, design and law. IIT is the home of Armour College of Engineering and Science, the College of Architecture, Institute of Psychology, Center for Law and Financial Markets, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Stuart Graduate School of Business, and the Institute of Design.
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