A breathalyser that could detect the early signs of lung cancer in patients' exhaled breath is undergoing clinical trials in Britain. Matthew Stock reports.
A simple breath test could soon help doctors detect the early signs of lung cancer. The sensor inside this breathalyser measures minute chemical traces in a patients' exhaled breath which could be a biomarker for cancer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BILLY BOYLE, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF OWLSTONE MEDICAL, SAYING: "The challenge is most people present when it's very late stage, and it's about managing symptoms as opposed to curing them. So the key thing that you can do is detect the disease early; and that's what we think the breathalyser technology allows for, picking it up at that earliest stage when it's treatable." Breath testing is already a recognised method for linking specfiic chemicals present in exhaled breath to existing medical conditions But current technology is often expensive, slow and complex to use. Owlstone Medcial believe they have the answer. (SOUNDBITE) (English) BILLY BOYLE, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF OWLSTONE MEDICAL, SAYING: "Historically chemical analysers take up half the size of a room and cost half a million dollars. So what we've been able to do is use microchip technology to shrink it down from these massive devices to something about the size of a button. And once it's in that form factor, you can build it directly into these disease breathalyser technologies." Known as volatile organic compounds, the chemical markers of lung cancer are present even in the earliest stage of the disease. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR ROBERT RINTOUL, CONSULTANT RESPIRATORY PHYSICIAN AT PAPWORTH HOSPITAL, SAYING: "And this device can collect those samples, those tiny amounts of volatile organic compounds, which we can then analyse in the laboratory. And in effect, it's a bit like a fingerprint. If you have a lung cancer we believe that we can detect these samples and that fingerprint will tell us whether the person has lung cancer or not." Clinical trials involving up to 3,000 volunteer patients are underway at 17 British hospitals, with the aim of having the non-invasive technology in GP's surgeries in 2017. In Britain alone there are about 45,000 new cases of lung cancer each year. Owlstone believes it's technology could potentially save 10,000 lives a year by helping to spot the disease before it takes hold.