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Biology

How Our Noses Can Sniff out Cancer (and Other Diseases!)

Every one of our five senses is unique in their own way. The miraculous sense of smell is pointed to in the famous story of Prophet Joseph when his father Prophet Jacob said, “I sense the fragrance of Joseph” from afar, and when he rubbed his shirt to his sightless eyes, he regained his sight (Qu...
| Irfan Yilmaz | Issue 141 (May - Jun 2021)

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How Our Noses Can Sniff out Cancer (and Other Diseases!)

In This Article

  • The scents that emanate from human bodies are as unique as fingerprints in that they are determined by genetics and metabolic differences among human beings.
  • Human breath also contains organic volatile chemical molecules in gas form that can readily blend into air due to having a high vapor pressure at a normal temperature.
  • As the diagnosis of diseases with the help of smell makes progress, the number of cases in which odor patterns in breath or sweat are determined increases.

Every one of our five senses is unique in their own way. The miraculous sense of smell is pointed to in the famous story of Prophet Joseph when his father Prophet Jacob said, “I sense the fragrance of Joseph” from afar, and when he rubbed his shirt to his sightless eyes, he regained his sight (Qur’an 12: 94, 96). This suggests that smell, or sweat, may be a guide for researchers regarding the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.

Some of the novel characteristics of the sense of smell have recently been explored. Studies jointly conducted in three emerging disciplines, namely artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, and molecular chemistry, have suggested that it may be possible to diagnose one's diseases using the smells of his or her sweat, urine, and breath.

Imagine that Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney failure, Crohn's disease, pulmonary hypertension, chronic kidney disease, or any type of cancer could be diagnosed through a simple assessment of the smell of your breath without any painful procedure including having to insert a probe, syringe, or any other apparatus into the body. It would be so convenient, wouldn’t it? We know that breathalyzers are being used for many decades to detect drunk driving by analyzing the sample breath from a driver. Scientists have been curious as to why such an approach could not be utilized to detect other diseases in this manner and have thus engaged in an interesting research.


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