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Melanoma detectable through skin odor

An odor emitted by melanoma through skin cells allows the disease to be detectable noninvasively, results of a recent study indicate.

Researchers from the Monell Center and colleagues used sampling and analytical techniques to identify volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are chemical molecules that give off an odor. The VOCs were identified in three stages of melanoma and in normal melanocytes, according to a news release.

Using an absorbent device, researchers collected chemical compounds from the air and housed them in containers that held the various types of cells. Investigators used gas chromaphotography-mass spectrometry techniques to analyze compounds and identify various profiles of VOCs being emitted by the cancer cells and the normal cells.

The melanoma cells emitted compounds that differed from those emitted by the normal cells. The different types of melanoma cells were also distinguishable by the type of chemical compounds they released.

To make this discovery useful in the clinical setting, investigators began analyzing VOCs from the cells with a nanosensor made of nano-sized tubes that were coated with DNA strands. The portable nanosensor device proved useful for deciphering differences in VOCs from cancerous cells versus those from normal melanocytes.

“This study demonstrates the usefulness of examining VOCs from diseases for rapid and noninvasive diagnostic purposes,” said A.T. Charlie Johnson, Ph.D., professor of physics, University of Pennsylvania, who helped to develop the nanosensor.

The findings were published online in Journal of Chromatography B.

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