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Is Breath Biopsy the Future of Cancer Detection?

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A clinical trial is underway that could offer a breakthrough in traditional cancer detection — a breath biopsy.

The two-year study will evaluate the effectiveness of the Breath Biopsy®, a device developed by Owlstone Medical Ltd. Owlstone, the study sponsor, has partnered with Cancer Research UK and University of Cambridge to examine the breath samples of 1,500 participants to determine if the technology can differentiate between patients with and without cancer. If successful, it could usher in a new era of cancer screening, offering earlier and less invasive detection.

The study’s lead investigator, Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, remarked, “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease. Through this clinical trial, we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier. Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test.”

How Does the Test Work?

A link has been discovered between breath signatures and the presence of cancer. The body naturally releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the breath. However, these VOCs change when cancer is present in the body, creating a new breath signature. The test aims to pinpoint these signatures and determine the presence of certain cancers earlier than urine and blood samples alone.

The team conducting this clinical study will collect breath samples from both healthy individuals and cancer patients. Each study participant will be asked to breathe into a mask for about 10 minutes. The breath samples will then be sent for further analysis and comparison at the Owlstone Medical laboratory.

Researchers on this clinical study are optimistic that the Breath Biopsy technology will accurately recognize and differentiate between healthy and cancerous breath biomarkers. Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO of Owlstone Medical, commented that the technology has proven to be effective at detecting VOCs in the breath, and he’s excited to see its applications toward early-stage diagnosis in the future.

Initially, the study will be performed on patients with stomach and esophageal cancers. But if proven effective the breath test could be used to detect many other forms of cancer, maybe even including mesothelioma.

“Technologies such as this breath test have the potential to revolutionize the way we detect and diagnose cancer in the future.” – Dr. David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK

The goal of the study is to detect cancer more efficiently and catch it in the earlier stages when curative treatment options are still likely available. The Breath Biopsy has potential to provide doctors with a non-invasive snapshot of a patient’s health, creating a better experience for patients and providers alike. It could also offer patients lower-cost cancer screenings.

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