Amsterdam doctor develops E-nose to sniff out infant bowel disease

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Researchers have developed an "electronic nose" that can detect the often fatal bowel disease necrotic enterocolitis, or NEC, in incubator babies at an early stage. Doctors are currently only able to diagnose NEC when the baby is already very ill. Researchers from the VU Medical Center recently completed a study in which they analyzed a group of 128 premature babies with this so-called eNose during the first four weeks of their lives, the Telegraaf reports. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

The eNose can detect from the smell of feces whether the disease will develop several days before the first symptoms appear. This could give physicians the possibility to intervene earlier and increase the chance of the babies survival. This is the first study in which the eNose is used to predict NEC in premature babies. The researchers examined 128 premature babies at VUmc, AMC and the Maxima Medical Center in Veldhoven. Of these children, 13 developed NEC and 7 died from it within a day. The study found that the odor profile of the children who later developed NEC significantly differed from the healthy control group three days in advance. The eNose could discern the NEC group a day before the diagnosis. According to project leader Tim de Meij, pediatrician at VUmc, this low impact and inexpensive odor analysis has great potential as a future predictor of NEC. "We have found out that the eNose can smell that the disease is coming a few days in advance. But whether and how NEC can be prevented or treated is a subject for future studies", De Meij said to Het Parool. "We know that the sooner you start treatment, the better the prognosis. But up to now that only applied to children who are already sick."