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MyDx Sensors Sniff Out Chemicals, Toxins

The wireless device is designed to analyze a small sample of a substance, while a companion smartphone app displays the results.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 19, 2016

Daniel Yazbeck has taken a rather unorthodox career path. After working as a chemist for Pfizer—"We found ways to create pharmaceutical intermediates using enzymes," he says—Yazbeck moved to Panasonic, where one of his team's assignments was to determine whether sensors could be used to sniff out biomarkers in people's breath related to various diseases. To do so, the research team was testing a technology called "the electronic nose," developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It was around this time that Yazbeck began researching the properties of cannabis, which he says has a "profound effect on my mind and body." It occurred to him that these same types of sensors could also be used to analyze the properties of various cannabis strains, but he knew that "Panasonic was never going to get into marijuana."

And so, Yazbeck founded CDx in 2012. Last year, the company began selling MyDx, its flagship product—a pocket-sized device that analyzes the chemical makeup of a small cannabis sample to generate a profile, which is conveyed via the CannaDx app running on a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. The profile describes the marijuana's chemical profile. Each profile is based on the levels of chemicals (cannabinoids, both psychoactive and non-psychoactive, and terpenes, which are the plant's aromatic chemicals) detected in the sample. While there are many common strains of marijuana, the chemical composition varies even within specific strains.

A MyDx sensor
Two genetically identical seeds coming from the same mother plant, but grown by two growers, in different soils and with different amounts of light and at different temperatures, will generate two plants with separate chemical profiles, Yazbeck says.

In addition, the app describes the analyzed samples' likely effects on a user—for example, a given sample may be likely to reduce a person's stress level, while also decreasing that individual's energy level, or make him or her less social. This is based both on the sample's chemical makeup and the traits of more than 500 strains compiled in a database that the CannaDx app references.

The electronic nose technology that the MyDx sensor uses to determine the chemical makeup employs conductive polymer films to detect specific molecules. The polymers inside the sensor act as sponges "that expand or retract when they bind with specific chemicals," Yazbeck says. "As that happens, we measure the change in the [electrical] resistance across the circuit board [on which the polymers are mounted]."

NASA employs electronic nose technology to detect levels of dangerous gases, such as ammonia, inside in the International Space Station. And a few years ago, NASA's Ames Research Center announced that it had shrunk the electronic nose sensor to be small enough to embed it into mobile devices.

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