A breath test that could detect lung cancer is to undergo clinical trials in NHS hospitals.
A spin-off firm from Cambridge University, Owlstone, has developed the Lung Cancer Indicator Detection (LuCID) device to detect chemical traces in breath which indicate a patient may have cancer.
Billy Boyle, co-founder of the firm, told Sky News a handheld device could be made available to GPs within two years.
He said he began to look at medical applications of the company’s technology, originally intended to detect explosives, when his wife Kate Gross was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago before she died at 36 on Christmas Day.
Mr Boyle told the broadcaster: “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. So by programming the chips in software to look for these different characteristic signatures and chemical markers you can programme it to look for a range of different diseases.
” We already have the microchip, we’re working on small handheld devices in (a) GP’s office. It’s important to get the clinical evidence first but we think we can have systems available, proven, within the next two years.
“And our goal is to save the NHS £245m – but more importantly to save 10,000 lives.”
Mr Boyle added he hoped the technology would lead to earlier detection of lung cancer, which kills more than 35,000 annually in the UK and has a low survival rate because diagnosis is often at the terminal stage.
The firm, which was awarded £1m in funding from NHS England’s Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare, is to run trials at Glenfied Hospital in Leicester and one other. A desktop version of the “breathalyser” already exists and will be used in the clinical trials.
Dr 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.
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