NIHGrantWearableSensor-featured Xudong Fan

U-M Weil Institute, College of Engineering & Michigan Medicine Awarded $5.7M Grant for Wearable Sensor that Detects Diseases through Body Odor

The device could bring powerful monitoring and detection capabilities from the hospital to the point-of-care, home and workplace.

Kate Murphy, Marketing Communications Specialist, Weil Institute
(734) 647-4751

ANN ARBOR, MI – Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Max Harry Weil Institute for Critical Care Research and Innovation, College of Engineering and Michigan Medicine have received a $5.7 million grant from the NIH Screening for Conditions by Electronic Nose Technology (SCENT) program to develop a portable sensor that uses body odor to detect over 20 acute and chronic, inflammatory, metabolic, respiratory, cardiovascular and skin diseases in both adults and children.

Xudong (Sherman) Fan, PhD, U-M Richard A. Auhll Professor of Biomedical Engineering and an Associate Director of the Weil Institute, is leading a collaborative team of engineers, data scientists and clinicians to build a device that integrates gas chromatography (GC) technology with electronic nose (e-nose) and vital signs sensors into a wearable system capable of analyzing the unique chemical signatures found in vapors emitted from the skin.

“It has been well known since Hippocrates that many diseases have distinct odors associated with them, such as the fruity smell that accompanies diabetic ketoacidosis,” said Dr. Fan. “These odors are the result of volatile organic and inorganic chemical compounds emanating from the skin, which are reflective of the human body’s metabolic processes as well as the bacteria and viruses living within it. Analyzing these compounds could provide us with unique diagnostic clues, guide laboratory evaluation, and facilitate and expedite treatment.”

The device will also be able to detect and analyze physiological information such as heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level, and total water loss through skin.

Currently, few technologies exist for wearable body odor analysis. Benchtop GC devices are commonly used but are too bulky and impractical to be deployed at the point-of-care. E-nose sensors, while providing a simpler and faster alternative, are susceptible to environmental changes and can suffer from strong cross-talk among their various sensing elements when they are exposed to all of the vapors that are emitted from the skin simultaneously. By combining wearable GC and graphene-based e-nose technologies developed at the University of Michigan with advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms, the project team aims to surpass the limitations of current body odor analysis methods and greatly enhance their device’s pattern recognition and disease detection capabilities.

Benchtop gas chromatography devices (pictured above) are commonly used for odor analysis but are bulky and impractical to deploy at the point-of-care. Image credit: Shutterstock

The team plans to tackle an array of clinical conditions in both adults and children ranging from critical illnesses like sepsis, stroke, congestive heart failure, GI bleeding, and diabetic ketoacidosis to skin diseases (such as psoriasis) and pulmonary diseases (such as asthma and COPD). The noninvasive and wearable nature of the device could have significant impact especially in the acute care space, where rising admission rates are leading to overcrowding and, subsequently, worsening outcomes.

“Undifferentiated critical illness is challenging and requires rapid diagnostic workup and monitoring in order to tailor and titrate lifesaving therapies,” said Kyle Gunnerson, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Anesthesiology, and Internal Medicine, as well as a Weil Institute member and the lead PI for the project’s Acute Care and Diseases focus area. Dr. Gunnerson is also the Emergency Critical Care Division Chief and oversees Michigan Medicine’s emergency department-based ICU, the Emergency Critical Care Center (EC3). “There is a direct relationship of increased mortality and the time a patient waits in the ED for an available ICU bed. Noninvasive wearable monitoring devices such as this could provide timely information needed to help identify, manage, and monitor many instances of acute critical illness and injury earlier than what is currently available.”

“Because people will simply wear the small device, it can also be used in a variety of settings outside of the hospital, such as homes and workplaces,” said Fan.

Project team:

Xudong (Sherman) Fan, PhD (PI, Biomedical Engineering, Weil Institute Associate Director); Zhaohui Zhong, PhD (Co-I, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science); Johann E. Gudjonsson, MD, PhD (Co-PI, Dermatology); Kyle Gunnerson, MD (Co-PI, Emergency Medicine, Weil Institute Member); Yvonne Huang, MD (Co-PI, Internal Medicine / Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine); Prashant Mahajan, MD, MPH, MBA (Co-PI, Emergency Medicine, Weil Institute Member); Sardar Ansari, PhD (Co-I, Emergency Medicine, Weil Institute Data Science Lead); and Rodney Daniels, MD (Co-I, Pediatrics, Weil Institute Associate Director), all from the University of Michigan and Michigan Medicine.


The team has two patents that will be utilized in this project:

  • Disclosure #6549 (Fan et al.) is currently under negotiations for commercialization agreements with three companies in which Dr. Fan has financial interests: Blue Biotech, Inc., Nanova Environmental, Inc., and ChromX Health Co. Ltd. The University of Michigan also has a financial interest in ChromXHealth Co. Ltd.
  • Disclosure #2022-033 (Fan and Zhong – Co-I). Patent filed