Cancer breath testing moves into large clinical trials
A new Breath Biopsy technology is set to undergo a large a clinical trial in the UK. The goal is to collect over 1500 different breath samples from cancer patients to evaluate how well the new breath collection device can capture different unique compounds and try to identify breath-based biomarkers unique to different types of cancer.
In recent years we have seen an assortment of promising diagnostic breathalyzers, from a hand-held device that can detect the flu to a more complex system claimed to identify malaria. Most of these devices are still yet to reach the general market, indicating that there's a greater degree of difficulty in detecting diseases through breath than many scientists may have hoped.
Cancer breath tests have also been frequently promised, although generally these tests focus on stomach or lung cancers, suggesting breath-based biomarkers for other cancers may be elusive. This new clinical trial is hoping to identify molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can be accurately linked to the presence of certain cancers.
The trial is a collaboration between the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre and Owlstone Medical. Owlstone is essentially funding the trial to investigate the efficacy of its novel Breath Biopsy technology, which hopes to demonstrate a reliable, consistent, and cost-effective way of capturing a sample of VOCs in patient's breath.
"Our technology has proven 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," explains Billy Boyle, CEO of Owlstone Medical.
The hypothesis is that when our body's metabolism is disrupted by disease our cells produce different, and unique, patterns of VOCs that can be identified in minute quantities in a person's breath. If we can detect and identify these unique breath signatures, then we can potentially diagnose a huge variety of different conditions from a simple breath sample.
"Intuitively, lung cancer seems the most obvious cancer to be detected in the breath," says Rebecca Fitzgerald, a Cambridge professor leading the trial. "But because of the way metabolites are recycled in the body, many other volatile molecules from other areas of the body end up in the breath too."
The new trial will investigate patients suspected to have six different cancers: esophageal, stomach, kidney, bladder, prostate, liver or pancreatic. The device takes ten minutes to collect a full sample, is captured and stabilized on a Breath Biopsy Cartridge, and then subsequently studied using mass spectrometry to establish a unique VOC profile.
Over the next two years the trial will collect the necessary volume of samples with results to be published sometime in 2021. The hope is that the findings might offer a roadmap towards clear and specific VOC signatures for the different cancers.