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Electronic nose sniffs out bacterial infection

01 Sep 2014

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University of Leicester researchers has developed a sensitive "electronic nose" for detecting the highly infectious bacteria Clostridium difficile orC. diff, which causes diarrhoea, temperature and stomach cramps.

The device uses a mass spectrometer, which works to identify the unique 'smell' of C. diff in faeces, leading to rapid diagnosis of the condition. The team said it could be possible to identify different strains of the disease simply from their smell – a chemical fingerprint—helping medics to target the particular condition.

Professor Paul Monks, from the Leicester's Department of Chemistry, said: "The rapid detection and identification of the bug C. diff is a primary concern in healthcare facilities. Different strains of this disease can cause different symptoms and may need to be treated differently so a test that could determine not only an infection, but what type of infection could lead to new treatment options."

The team have measured the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) given out by different of strains of C. diff and have shown that many of them have a unique smell. In particular, different strains show different chemical fingerprints which are detected by a mass spectrometer.

The work suggests that the detection of the chemical fingerprint may allow for a rapid means of identifying C. difficile infection, as well as providing markers for the way the different strains grow.

"The different strains of C. diff have significantly different chemical fingerprints and with further research we would hope to be able to develop a reliable and almost instantaneous tool for detecting a specific strain, even if present in very small quantities," said Professor Andy Ellis from the Department of Chemistry.

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(Left) From left to right: Professor Andy Ellis, Professor Paul Monks and Dr Martha Clokie from the University of Leicester with the mass spectrometer; (right) image of Clostridium difficile or C-diff. Source: University of Leicester

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