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Battle of the e-Noses
Is the technology fully baked?
Image by Joe Haupt via Wikimedia
Electronic noses are the cool new technology that will revolutionize clinical medicine. Just exhale into Dr. McCoy’s Tricorder and it will read out your diagnosis instantly!
At least that’s what we’ve been hearing for over a decade now: studies that claim e-nose X can detect breath volatiles from disease Y, and so on and so on. I haven’t written much about this work because strikes me as preliminary, proof-of-principle stuff. In other words, potentially interesting but still a million miles from a commercial prototype much less a registered medical device.
Yeah, well, you know, that’s just like, uh, your opinion man.
True enough. But a new study in JAMA Network Open provides some traction for my view. A group of researchers in the Netherlands conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 52 studies, published since 2000, that used e-noses to detect cancer in the breath of patients.
The authors conclude that these devices have “a high diagnostic accuracy for the detection of cancer,” but this promising observation comes with a big, fat caveat:
However, most studies were feasibility studies with small sample sizes, a lack of standardization, and a high risk of bias. The lack of standardization and reproducibility of e-nose research should be addressed in future research.
Translation: Potentially interesting but still a million miles from a commercial prototype.
Max H. M. C. Scheepers, Zaid Al-Difaie, Lloyd Brandts, Andrea Peeters, Bart van Grinsven, and Nicole D. Bouvy. 2022. Diagnostic performance of electronic noses in cancer diagnoses using exhaled breath: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open 5(6):e2219372. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.19372