Livin' on the MDedge

Noses can be electronic, and toilets can be smart


Cancer loses … by a nose

Since the human nose is unpredictable at best, we’ve learned to rely on animals for our detailed nozzle needs. But researchers have found the next best thing to man’s best friend to accurately identify cancers.

A team at the University of Pennsylvania has developed an electronic olfaction, or “e-nose,” that has a 95% accuracy rate in distinguishing benign and malignant pancreatic and ovarian cancer cells from a single blood sample. How?

The e-nose system is equipped with nanosensors that are able to detect the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by cells in a blood sample. Not only does this create an opportunity for an easier, noninvasive screening practice, but it’s fast. The e-nose can distinguish VOCs from healthy to cancerous blood cells in 20 minutes or less and is just as effective in picking up on early- and late-stage cancers.


The investigators hope that this innovative technology can pave the way for similar devices with other uses. Thanks to the e-nose, a handheld device is in development that may be able to sniff out the signature odor of people with COVID-19.

That’s one smart schnoz.

Do you think this is a (food) game?

Dieting and eating healthy is tough, even during the best of times, and it has not been the best of times. With all respect to Charles Dickens, it’s been the worst of times, full stop. Millions of people have spent the past year sitting around their homes doing nothing, and it’s only natural that many would let their discipline slide.

Naturally, the solution to unhealthy eating habits is to sit down and play with your phone. No, that’s not the joke, the Food Trainer app, available on all cellular devices near you, is designed to encourage healthy eating by turning it into a game of sorts. When users open the app, they’re presented with images of food, and they’re trained to tap on images of healthy food and pass on images of unhealthy ones. The process takes less than 5 minutes.

It sounds really simple, but in a study of more than 1,000 people, consumption of junk food fell by 1 point on an 8-point scale (ranging from four times per day to zero to one time per month), participants lost about half a kilogram (a little over one pound), and more healthy food was eaten. Those who used the app more regularly, along the lines of 10 times per month or more, saw greater benefits.

woman using smartphone PxHere

The authors did acknowledge that those who used the app more may have been more motivated to lose weight anyway, which perhaps limits the overall benefit, but reviews on Google Play were overall quite positive, and if there’s one great truth in this world, it’s that Internet reviewers are almost impossible to please. So perhaps this app is worth looking into if you’re like the LOTME staff and you’re up at the top end of that 8-point scale. What, pizza is delicious, who wouldn’t eat it four times a day? And you can also get it from your phone!

It’s time for a little mass kickin’

The universe, scientists tell us, is a big place. Really big. Chromosomes, scientists tell us, are small. Really small. But despite this very fundamental difference, the universe and chromosomes share a deep, dark secret: unexplained mass.

This being a medical publication, we’ll start with chromosomes. A group of researchers measured their mass with x-rays for the first time and found that “the 46 chromosomes in each of our cells weigh 242 picograms (trillionths of a gram). This is heavier than we would expect, and, if replicated, points to unexplained excess mass in chromosomes,” Ian K. Robinson, PhD, said in a written statement.

chromosomes Archana Bhatiya et al.

We’re not just talking about a bit of a beer belly here. “The chromosomes were about 20 times heavier than the DNA they contained,” according to the investigators.

Now to the universe. Here’s what CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, has to say about the mass of the universe: “Galaxies in our universe … are rotating with such speed that the gravity generated by their observable matter could not possibly hold them together. … which leads scientists to believe that something we cannot see is at work. They think something we have yet to detect directly is giving these galaxies extra mass.”

But wait, there’s more! “The matter we know and that makes up all stars and galaxies only accounts for 5% of the content of the universe!”

So chromosomes are about 20 times heavier than the DNA they contain, and the universe is about 20 times heavier than the matter that can be seen. Interesting.

We are, of course, happy to share this news with our readers, but there is one catch: Don’t tell Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’ll want to reclassify our genetic solar system into 45 chromosomes and one dwarf chromosome.

A photo finish for the Smart Toilet

We know that poop can tell us a lot about our health, but new research by scientists at Duke University is really on a roll. Their Smart Toilet has been created to help people keep an eye on their bowel health. The device takes pictures of poop after it is flushed and can tell whether the consistency is loose, bloody, or normal.

The Smart Toilet can really help people with issues such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease by helping them, and their doctors, keep tabs on their poop. “Typically, gastroenterologists have to rely on patient self-reported information about their stool to help determine the cause of their gastrointestinal health issues, which can be very unreliable,” study lead author Deborah Fisher said.

A toilet SutidaS/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Not many people look too closely at their poop before it’s flushed, so the fecal photos can make a big difference. The Smart Toilet is installed into the pipes of a toilet and does its thing when the toilet is flushed, so there doesn’t seem to be much work on the patient’s end. Other than the, um, you know, usual work from the patient’s end.

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