Sniffing Out Disease-”Smellcheck”


Defensetech reports on DARPA’s new “smell-out the terrorist program“.  Ok stop laughing and read on:

Cutting edge military R&D from DARPA has developed a way to smell out bad guys- literally.  Move over fingerprints and biometrics- this is what I call “smellcheck”.

Darpa’s “Unique Signature Detection Project (formerly known as the Odortype Detection program)” aims to sniff out genetic markers in “human emanations (urine, sweat, etc.)” that “can be used to identify and distinguish specific high-level-of-interest individuals within groups of enemy troops.”

Sniffing out Organ Donors:  There is real science behind this.  National Geographic reported on some of the basic science mouse research behind this.  Michael Leon, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine studied mice and found that specific molecules excreted in urine were related to MHC molecules.  The MHC (major histocompatibility complex) antigens are molecules on the surface of cells that the body uses to recognize self vs non-self.  The MHC genes are the genes that code for these molecules.  Whena person is “matched” for an organ or bone marrow transplant these are the factors that are being matched. 

Read more very technical article about the details of tissue typing for transplants with HLA and MHC typing here

Read about the standard methods of matching and volunteer to be a bone marrow donor at the national marrow donation program here

Therefore– this new military technology being used to sniff out terrorists in a group could be used to rapidly and noninvasively screen large groups of people for potential transplant matches. 

This medical concept has already been tested.  An article in Nature Genetics from UC Illinois reported that:

The smell signature also applies to health. Beauchamp’s team at Monell discovered that mice, for example, can distinguish older and younger genetically identical mice. They also use odor to identify animals infected with the Mammary Tumor Virus before any signs of disease are present. In Cambridge, England, dogs are being tested for their ability to sniff out traces of human prostate cancer in urine samples. Beauchamp anticipates that many diseases may have chemical signatures that may provide early diagnoses.

DT reports- Darpa’s smell detector is part of a larger, $15 million-per-year effort to develop “novel sensors” for U.S. troop operating in “urban settings.” The goal of the Urban Vision program is “to enable the warfighter to ‘see’ movers within a building using a variety of fused multi-spectral techniques.” The “Enemy Dismount Intrusion Detection program,” on the other hand, “will develop a chemical sensor that is capable of providing an advanced warning of the presence of enemy troops or combatants by detecting the chemical emissions… that are common to all humans.”

Update:  docinthemachine nominated for best medical technology blog of 2006 – please vote for us here


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>