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According a study by Penn researchers, a newly developed odor test by Penn Medicine is 95% accurate in detecting ovarian cancer and 90% accurate in detecting pancreatic cancer.

Credit: Avi Singh

An odor test developed by Penn Medicine can detect cancer cells with over 90% accuracy.

According to a study by Penn researchers, the odor test can detect compounds found in pancreatic and ovarian cancer cells using blood samples from patients. The researchers tested the accuracy of the odor test using 93 patients and found that it was 95% accurate in detecting ovarian cancer and 90% accurate in detecting pancreatic cancer.

Researchers trained an artificially intelligent machine to differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells. The test analyzes the blood samples for compounds similarly to how human brains differentiate between smells, according to Penn Medicine, and will allow doctors to screen for cancer in a less intrusive way.

“The data shows we can identify these tumors at both advanced and the earliest stages, which is exciting,” Penn professor and first author of the study A.T. Charlie Johnson told Penn Medicine. “If developed appropriately for the clinical setting, this could potentially be a test that’s done on a standard blood draw that may be part of your annual physical.”

The findings of the study were presented at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting on June 4 by Johnson.

To make the device more accessible, the researchers have partnered with VOC Health, a company that works to lower the cost of healthcare by developing technology to detect and prevent diseases. VOC Health CEO  and Chief Innovation Officer Richard Postrel worked with the research team to improve the speed of the test to deliver results in 20 minutes or less.

“Collaborating with researchers from the department of Physics and Astronomy, the Perelman School of Medicine, and Penn Vet has allowed us to perfect and integrate our own innovations – expediting the commercialization process," Postrel told Penn Medicine.