Now, nanotube sensor to sniff out the scent of skin cancer

Updated: Jun 14, 2013, 11:28 AM IST

Washington: A unique odour signature from human skin cells can be used for identifying melanoma - the deadliest form of cancer, a new research has claimed.

The researchers also showed that a nanotechnology-based sensor could reliably differentiate melanoma cells from normal skin cells.

Melanoma is a tumour that affects melanocytes, skin cells that produce the dark pigment that gives skin its colour.

The disease is responsible for approximately 75 percent of skin cancer deaths, with chances of survival directly related to how early the cancer is detected.

The study took advantage of the fact that human skin produces numerous airborne chemical molecules known as volatile organic compounds (VOC) many of which are odourous.

In the study, researchers used sophisticated sampling and analytical techniques to identify VOCs from melanoma cells at three stages of the disease as well as from normal melanocytes.

The researchers used an absorbent device to collect chemical compounds from air in closed containers containing the various types of cells.

Then, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry techniques were used to analyze the compounds and identified different profiles of VOCs emitting from melanoma cells relative to normal cells.

Both the types and concentrations of chemicals were affected. Melanoma cells produced certain compounds not detected in VOCs from normal melanocytes and also more or less of other chemicals. Further, the different types of melanoma cells could be distinguished from one another.

The researchers examined VOCs from normal melanocytes and melanoma cells using a previously described nano-sensor, which was built up of nano-sized carbon tubes coated with strands of DNA, the tiny sensors can be bioengineered to recognize a wide variety of targets, including specific odour molecules.

The nano-sensor was able to distinguish differences in VOCs from normal and several different types of melanoma cells.

The study has been published online in the Journal of Chromatography B.