Scientists Develop ‘Electronic Nose' to Sniff Out C. Difficile Infection

Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed a highly sensitive "electronic-nose" to identify the infectious bacteria Clostridium difficile that causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever in patients.

Researchers at the University of Leicester have developed a highly sensitive “electronic-nose” to identify the infectious bacteria Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) that causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever in patients.

Published online in the Metabolomics, the study showed that the team used a mass spectrometer to indicate the possibility of detecting the unique C. difficile smell, potentially leading to immediate diagnosis.

Professor Paul Monks, Depart of Chemistry at the University of Leicester, said in a news release, “The rapid detection and identification of the bug Clostridium difficile is a primary concern in healthcare facilities. Rapid and accurate diagnosis are important to reduce C.difficile infections, as well as to provide the right treatment to infected patients. Delayed treatment and inappropriate antibiotics not only cause high morbidity and mortality, but also add costs to the healthcare system through lost bed days.”

Using the smell of C.difficile as a chemical fingerprint, the research team expressed the “electronic nose” could potentially identify 3 various strains of the disease, aiding in targeting the condition. They measured the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released from different bacterial strains. This research suggested a variety of symptoms could result from the multiple C. difficile strains, meaning the tests could further detect the type of infection — leading to targeted treatment options.

“Our approach may lead to a rapid diagnostic test based on the VOCs released from fecal samples of patients infected with C. difficile. We do not underestimate the challenges in sampling and attributing C. difficile VOCs from fecal samples,” Monks commented.

Martha Clokie, Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Leicester, said, “Current tests for C. difficile don’t generally give strain information — this test could allow doctors to see what strain was causing the illness and allow doctors to tailor their treatment.”

Nonetheless, this promising new, reliable method for infection detection can pave the road for streamlined treatment, ultimately resulting in quicker recovery periods for patients as well.