UK Scientists Test Breathalyzer for Detecting Early Cancers
Major study at Addenbrooke’s hospital could lead to cancer detectors in GPs’ surgeries
Jan. 2, 2019 (The Guardian) – A breathalyzer test that could revolutionize cancer diagnosis is being tested in the UK. The Breath Biopsy device is designed to detect cancer hallmarks in molecules exhaled by patients.
Scientists hope it will lead to a simpler, cheaper method of spotting cancers early. The breathalyzer has the potential to save thousands of lives and millions of pounds in healthcare costs, its developers have claimed.
The two-year trial, taking place at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, is recruiting 1,500 participants, including healthy individuals as well as cancer patients.
Initially, patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers will be asked to try the test. Later it will be extended to include prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.
The lead investigator, Prof Rebecca Fitzgerald of the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Centre, 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 trial for early detection of cancer in breath is being run by CRUK in conjunction with British company Owlstone Medical, which invented the test.
Participants will be asked to breathe into the cancer breathalyzer for 10 minutes. Airborne molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) collected by the test will then be sent to a laboratory in Cambridge for analysis. As part of their normal metabolic processes, cells in the body produce a range of VOCs as part of their normal metabolic processes. The molecules find their way into the lungs and emerge in the breath. The idea behind the test is that cancer can cause recognizable alterations in the pattern of VOCs.
If the technology is shown to be reliable and accurate, cancer breathalyzers could become a common sight in GP surgeries.
Billy Boyle, co-founder and chief executive of Owlstone Medical, said: “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.”.