Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Nose for Infection

PostedMay 1, 2020

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Lede: Researchers are now exploring whether dogs can detect a person infected with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by smell. Trace odors have already been connected to other infections.

Randy Atkins: It’s been shown that dogs can identify certain human maladies by smell, suggesting such afflictions somehow create detectable gases. Emilie Benson, a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, says potentially dangerous Staphylococcus aureus bacteria likely produce such volatile chemicals as they grow in our bodies…

Emilie Benson: …which then makes their way into the bloodstream and then eventually into people’s tear ducts.

Randy Atkins: So Benson is testing strips of paper soaked with human tears and, through a chemical process, coaxing out gases. She then lets them waft over an artificial nose she’s engineered.

Emilie Benson: The nose itself is actually just a small electronic chip.

Randy Atkins: Inside are ten sensors and, in early tests, Benson says the way they react has predicted the presence of Staph aureus bacteria. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.