A breathalyzer to detect lung cancer?

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Early detection of lung cancer can improve prognosis of the disease. Thus, British researchers are working on developing a test that can pick up early traits of the disease, making cure more likely.

A team of experts at the University of Huddersfield are developing a breathalyzer test that can detect very early signs of the malignancy.

“The intention is that we will catch patients before they start getting the symptoms. Once lung cancer patients start experiencing symptoms it is often very advanced and has a very low cure rate,” said Dr Rachel Airley, study’s lead researcher and developer of the breathalyzer device.
The project was equally funded by the SG Court Pharmacy group, a chain of 20 pharmaceutical companies mainly based in the South East of England.

For the preliminary trials of the device that will be carried out at these pharmacies the researchers are looking for healthy volunteers and patients with known disease like bronchitis, emphysema or plain cough. The breath samples collected from such volunteers will help researchers create a reference chart for future reference.

“When you get certain chemicals in someone’s breath, that can be a sign that there is early malignancy,” says Dr Airley. “We are looking to be able to distinguish between patients with early lung cancer and patients who have maybe got bronchitis, emphysema or non-malignant smoking related disease… or who have maybe just got a cough.”

The breathalyzer device
Previous studies have established that carbon-based sensors fixed with gold nanoparticles and even dogs can help in detecting molecules in the breath. The presence of these molecules indicated the presence of the lung cancer.

Using this as the base information, Dr Airley found that these molecules are packed with genes, proteins, cell fragments, secretions and chemicals that are produced during the metabolism of live tissue with the disease, forming the chemical and biological signature.

The breathalyzer device picks up the “biomarker signature” that is present in the breath, Airley explained.

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