Breath analyser could soon help detect cancer

UK researchers have developed a new breath analyser device called the Breath Biopsy device. This could help diagnose cancer.

Image Credit: Owlstone Medical
Image Credit: Owlstone Medical

The device is a hand held easy-to-use contraption that can help detect the molecules associated with cancer exhaled by the patients. This could pave the way for a simple and cheap method for detecting cancers early and save millions of lives.

A two year trial is on at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge which is recruiting 1,500 volunteers who are healthy as well as those who have cancer. Healthy volunteers as well as those who have stomach and esophagus cancers would be initially included. At a later phase patients with kidney, prostate, bladder, liver and pancreas cancers.

Prof Rebecca Fitzgerald of the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Centre, who led the study said, “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease.

Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier. It’s the crucial next step in developing this technology.” The study is being run by CRUK along with British company Owlstone Medical. Owlstone Medical is the pioneer that developed this device and test.

In the test the participants would breathe into a cancer breath analyzer for 10 minutes. Breath contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are collected by the hand held device. This sample is then to be sent to a laboratory in Cambridge for analysis. Cells in the body produce VOCs which are produced as part of their metabolic processes.

These VOCs then are released into the lungs that are breathed out. The principle behind this device and test is that cancer cells produce distinctive pattern of VOCs that can be detected. If the signature pattern of these VOCs are identified, they can successfully detect early cancers and would be of great use in the GP clinics, explain the researchers. It would reduce the number of unnecessary biopsies and tests.

According to Billy Boyle, co-founder and chief executive of Owlstone Medical, “There is increasing potential for breath-based tests to aid diagnosis, sitting alongside blood and urine tests in an effort to help doctors detect and treat disease. The concept of providing a whole-body snapshot in a completely non-invasive way is very powerful and could reduce harm by sparing patients from more invasive tests that they don’t need.

Our technology has proved to be extremely effective at detecting VOCs in the breath, and we are proud to be working with Cancer Research UK as we look to apply it towards the incredibly important area of detecting early-stage disease in a range of cancers in patients.”

Ananya Mandal

Written by

Ananya Mandal

Ananya is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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