Advancing technologies for detecting and diagnosing illness is taking Monell scientists in many directions. For example, one path is better understanding how taste-like solitary chemosensory cells detect pathogens and spur an immune response. Another track is monitoring changes in body chemicals that signal disease. An equally urgent focus is learning how to monitor airborne chemicals to one day predict, and perhaps even prevent, the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
Chemical-sensing cells in the gums of mice trigger the immune system to control bacteria in the mouth and protect against tissue-damaging infections that destroy supporting bone in teeth. Findings may lead to personalized dental treatment of periodontitis by harnessing one’s own innate immune system to regulate their oral microbiome.
Building a diagnostic tool to detect early-stage ovarian cancer by using odor biomarkers in blood was a research focus of the late George Preti, PhD. He and colleagues compared a prototype instrument against trained dogs and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to detect volatile molecules emanating from blood donated from ovarian cancer patients. Both the dogs and the cancer-sniffing prototype determined that plasma from cancer patients gives off an odor signature different from other healthy individuals.
Certain volatile chemicals in the feces of rabies-vaccinated raccoons and striped skunks are related to signs of active adaptive immunity in the animals. The findings suggest that monitoring fecal volatiles in wildlife and domesticated animal scat may serve as an important infectious disease surveillance to detect viruses in animals before they make the leap to humans.