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A Japanese research team has developed a small sensor to detect an odor substance found in the breath of cancer sufferers using mosquito olfactory receptors.

A paper about the development has been published in the U.S. journal Science Advances.

The team, led mainly by University of Tokyo Professor Shoji Takeuchi, aims to put the sensor, which can be created at low cost and is said to be highly accurate, to practical use within as little time as 10 years.

The antennae of a mosquito have about 100 kinds of odorant receptors, each designed to detect a specific odor substance. The receptors are located on the surface of olfactory cells.

When an odorant receptor connects with a specific odorant molecule, a hole opens up on the cellular membrane to let ions enter the cell, allowing the smell to be detected.

Takeuchi and other team members created an artificial cellular membrane embedded with a mosquito odorant receptor that detects octenol, a chemical that is found in human perspiration and can be used as a biomarker of liver cancer.

The team also made a sensor to detect the electric current created when ions pass through the artificial membrane.

The team improved the sensitivity of the sensor by narrowing the path to inject breath samples.

A lunch box-sized prototype detected octenol at a concentration of 0.5 part per billion in breath samples within 10 minutes, according to the team.

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