Those of you who subscribed to my former “Wholesome Living Letter” might remember an article I did called “Dr. Fido Will See You Now”.

It told of the fact that dogs were extraordinarily accurate in sniffing out cutaneous cancer cells. A number of dogs had literally saved their owner’s life by spotting very early cancers.

Now researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst say they have developed highly sensitive sensors that pick up subtle differences on the surface of a cell that indicate if it is healthy or cancerous, even whether the cancer is metastatic or not.

The team’s report, published online in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said the sensors have successfully distinguished between healthy and cancerous human and animal cells, even from the same individual.

The sensors use the polymer PPE, or para-phenyleneethynylene, and three gold nanoparticles that tend to bond with the surface of chemically abnormal cells. When an abnormal cell surface grabs on to the gold nanoparticles, the PPE breaks off and glows. The glowing PPE pattern helps scientists identify the cell type, as a cancer cell has slightly different proportions of biomarkers on its surface than a healthy cell.

The new method uses an array of sensors to recognize not only known cancer types, but it signals that abnormal cells are present. That is, the chemical nose can simply tell us something isn’t right, without being sure what.

The researchers next hope to test the chemical nose on real animal tissue as opposed to cultured tissue and refine their ability to decipher the information the detection system gives them.