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What secrets might your breath hold?

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Finding diseases like cancer early is key to saving lives. Novel methods for early detection are continuously under development, including the latest diagnostic approach: biopsy – by breath.

Breath biopsies involve analysing breath for the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are key biomarkers in certain cancers and brain tumours. However, reliably capturing VOCs can be tricky but one company believes they have the answer.

The ReCIVA Breath Sampler. Credit: Owlstone Medical Ltd

The ReCIVA Breath Sampler. Credit: Owlstone Medical Ltd

Currently undergoing clinical trials, the ReCIVA breath sampler is the brain-child of Owlstone Medical. It can collect up to four breath samples, from different areas of the lungs, at any one time. The captured breath is monitored by pressure and CO2 sensors in the sampler. Depending on the disease, different concentrations of VOCs are present in different breath fractions, so the ability to obtain separate samples is extremely useful for diagnosing.

Two pairs of polymer-based sorbent tubes are used to collect the samples, which can then be stored or directly analysed using a variety of techniques. Doctors believe that a unique fingerprint of VOCs will be found upon analysis if cancer is present.
The ReCIVA breath sampler is currently undergoing four large-scale clinical trials, with the hope of getting the technology into hospitals and GP surgeries before the end of the year. In research carried out by CRUK Cambridge Centre, the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, patients admitted to Addenbrookes Hospital with suspected cancer will undergo breath biopsies using the ReCIVA to collect samples. These samples will be analysed in Owlstone Medical’s clinical laboratory, to assess whether there are reliable levels of biomarkers present to distinguish those with cancer from the healthy population.

If successful, the highly sensitive, non-invasive detection method could help provide a cheap and accurate first screening of patients before the employment of expensive imaging methods like CT scans. This has the potential to significantly speed up diagnostics for cancer and other diseases, saving thousands of lives.

The ReCIVA breath sampler will be on display in our interactive Tomorrow’s World gallery until mid-December 2017. Visit our website to find out what else is currently on display.


Video credits:

ReCIVA breath sampler – Billy Boyle

Breath Biopsy – early detection of lung cancer using VOCs biomarkers – Billy Boyle

Written by Catherine Hodges