Thursday, February 23, 2012

A breath test for cancer?

I was very pleased to see that a proposed 'breath test' for lung cancer has completed its initial clinical trials successfully, and is now set for further development and expanded testing. MIT's Technology Review reports:

Someday soon a breath test could do more than just tell if you've been drinking. Metabolomx, a startup in Mountain View, California, recently completed a clinical trial that shows that its breath test can spot lung cancer with 83 percent accuracy and can also distinguish between several different types of the disease, something that usually requires a biopsy. The accuracy of the test matches what's possible with low-dose computerized tomography imaging of the lungs.

. . .

Chemical results of a tumor's metabolism are dissolved in the blood, and can end up in the breath. Trained dogs can identify breath samples from patients with lung cancer with 98 percent accuracy. Researchers have been working on a noninvasive cancer breath test for years, but have struggled to make one that is simple, reliable, and portable enough.

. . .

In the current version of the system, a patient must breathe through a tube for about five minutes. Pumps draw the breath through a series of filters to dry it out and remove bacteria, then over an array of sensors.

Breath analysis instrument (image courtesy of Metabolomx)

Metabolomx has shown that the system can distinguish breath samples from patients with different subtypes of lung cancer.

. . .

Also, because it's not specific to a particular group of chemicals, the Metabolomx sensor could, in theory at least, be used to screen for any disease that has a metabolic breath signature — the company is currently exploring tests for other diseases, including tuberculosis.

There's more at the link.

This will be a huge blessing if it succeeds. I've worked (as a pastor and counselor) with many cancer victims. Their most frequent complaint was that the diagnosis 'came out of nowhere', without warning or any sign that anything was wrong. As a result, of course, treatment was often unsuccessful, leading to an early death. If a simple, low-cost breath test can identify the presence of at least some kinds of cancer, it'll make early detection much more feasible and much more affordable.

I don't usually pray for the success of any commercial organization; but this product has such vast implications for all of us, in terms of health and quality of life, that I might just break my own rule on this occasion!



Bill N. said...

They have experimented with devices to sniff explosives. After everything is said and done the most effective bomb detector is still a well trained dog with a good handler. There has been some promising experiments using dogs to detect cancer (Beagles if I remember correctly). I don't expect it to catch on since having dogs detect cancer will interfere with the profits of medical companies.

trailbee said...

Three times is the charm, I suppose, but a breath test during what we call 'remission' would be nice. Sort of, just in case. :)