A diagnostic device for detection of cancer markers in human breath is to be trialled in NHS hospitals.
Based on technology for detection of explosives, the device, called LuCID, was developed by Owlstone, a spin-off company from Cambridge University.
The company’s co-founder Billy Boyle told Sky News he felt impelled to research the possibilities of more convenient cancer diagnostics after his wife was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 34.
"The human body makes chemicals; a lot of them are just normal, everyday chemicals, but with cancer and other diseases the cells go a bit wrong and start to make chemicals differently,” Boyle explained. “So by programming the chips in software to look for these different characteristic signatures and chemical markers you can program it to look for a range of different diseases”
Not having been able to save the life of his wife, who passed away two years after receiving her diagnosis, Boyle said he hopes to enable doctors to save about 10,000 lives a year by providing timely diagnoses.
In addition to that, the low cost technique would cut NHS bills by £245m, the researcher said.
"We already have the microchip, we're working on small handheld devices in (a) GP's office,” Boyle revealed. “It's important to get the clinical evidence first but we think we can have systems available, proven, within the next two years.
The device could be used to routinely screen patients for lung cancer, a deadly disease, which frequently goes unnoticed until it’s too late for the doctors to successfuly intevene. In the UK alone, lung cancer kills about 35,000 people every year.
Owlstone has secured a £1m grant from the NHS England's Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare to run trials with a desktop version of the breath analyser at Glenfied Hospital in Leicester.
Jonathan Bennett, a consultant at the hospital, told Sky News the test could be installed at GP surgeries and pharmacies if it proved successful and could be a 'game-changer'.
Last year researchers, including a team from the University of Liverpool, discovered subtle genetic changes in vapour given off by cells that suggested a diagnostic breath test for lung cancer was theoretically possible.