Israeli researcher receives EU grant for development of 'electronic nose'

An Israeli researcher has been awarded a grant of € 1.73 million by the EU under its Marie Curie Excellence programme for the development of an 'electronic nose' that can sniff out cancer.

Dr Hossam Haick of the Israel Institute of Technology received the award as part of the EU's efforts to strengthen and encourage young promising scientists.

Dr Haick is 31 years old and also the recipient of the largest grant ever received from the EU by an Israeli researcher. He will be working on artificial olfactory systems or 'electronic noses' aimed at sniffing out and diagnosing cancer at the earliest possible stage before it spreads.

"Realisation of the research goal will enable creating an instrument based on nanometre-sized sensors that can diagnose different cancers and even determine at what stage the disease is," explains Dr Haick. "The diagnosis can be carried out at a very early stage even before the tumour has begun to spread. Thus, treatment will be immediate and will destroy the disease at its inception."

Electronic noses are one example of a growing research area called biomimetics, or biomimicry, which involves human-made applications patterned on natural phenomena.

As an odour is composed of molecules, each of which has a specific size and shape, each of these molecules has a receptor of a corresponding size and shape in the human nose. When a specific receptor receives a molecule, it sends a signal to the brain and the brain identifies the smell associated with that particular molecule. Electronic noses based on the biological model work in a similar manner, substituting sensors for the receptors, and transmitting the signal to a program for processing, instead of the brain.

Dr Haick intends to develop sensor arrays made of nanomaterials, understanding the fundamental chemical, physical, and electrical properties of these nanomaterials and the signal mechanism of these sensors.

He will also be developing the smallest versions of these electronic noses; the 'e-nose on chip', which is a single computer chip containing both the sensors and the processing components.

In addition, to targeting the early diagnosis, detection and screening of a disease, artificial olfactory systems are used in environmental-monitoring, the food industries and security.

For further information, please visit: Technion - Israel Institute of Technology

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