Cork institute’s nano-device capable of sniffing out cancer

IRISH scientists have developed a smelling device which could lead to the early detection of cancer.

Just like some dogs have been able to detect cancer simply by smelling urine samples, the electronic nose under development at Tyndall National Institute in Cork offers the potential to identify aggressive cancers, such as those of the prostate and bladder, at an early stage.

While work on similar technology has been done internationally, this is the first project working with nanomaterials, objects on a scale of a millionth of a millimetre in diameter.

The project, which has passed the design stage, is being developed in partnership with centres in Spain, France, Italy and Britain.

“It is a three-year project but I estimate that within five years, some kind of portable device would be available. We have attached nano-sized receptors that can recognise smells to a nanotransducer, and the main work will be modifying the receptors and the electronic signals to get to a standard that can be used for clinical diagnosis,” said project coordinator at Tyndall Dr Vladimir Ogurtsov.

“The same technology could also have applications in food safety, or in security and environment by using smell sensors.

“The great thing is that, while it is being led by world-recognised researchers, the project also involves postgraduate students, which boosts the abilities of the next generation of Irish scientists,” he said.

The development emerged as Ireland was yesterday ranked as the world’s eighth-best country for quality of research in materials science, including nanoscience. This places us above more than 150 other countries and well ahead of France, Canada, Australia and Japan. Trinity College Dublin’s nanoscience institute CRANN said the ranking by Thomson Reuters is testament to the investment in the area over the past decade.

A recent report by the Government’s technology advisory group Forfás said non-public funding for nanoscience research could be raised, but focus must be put on commercialisation to improve our share of a global market that could increase tenfold to €2 trillion by 2015.

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