Breath Test to Detect Lung Cancer
Less than two months after the death of his wife of colon cancer, Dr Billy Boyle and his company have invented a breath test that can detect lung cancer.
Former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, as well as CEO of the charity Africa Governance Initiative, Kate Gross was diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2012. She passed away on Christmas Day last year, but not before inspiring her scientist husband to see what he could do to help prevent other families from going through the same devastation as his own.
And so, Dr Boyle and his colleagues at Owlstone Nanotech have created a breathalyser, developing on technology originally intended to detect explosives on the battlefield or in airports.
To use the LuCID (Lung Cancer Indicator Detection), the patient blows into it, and if there are any traces of chemicals that indicate the user has lung cancer, the device will pick it up.
Dr Boyle explained that the body makes a lot of normal, everyday chemicals. But if a person develops a disease like cancer, the cells mutate and make different chemicals, though only in minute amounts.
The chip inside the LuCID can be programmed to recognise different chemical markers and signatures, meaning that it could be used to identify a range of conditions.
He added that they already have the microchip made, and Owlstone is working on small, handheld devices that could be used in GP surgeries. And he is confident that the systems could be in regular use within two years – they have already been approved for clinical testing in NHS hospitals.
As well as stopping other families from suffering the ways his has done, Dr Boyle also believes that the LuCID will provide a very real opportunity to improve the lives of cancer patients.
He went on to explain that he and his wife spent time on cancer wards, talking about potential applications for Owlstone’s technology. They realised that early detection of cancer would mean fewer people having to sit on those wards.
Lung cancer kills more than 35,000 people in the UK ever year, and Dr Boyle is hoping the new technology will lead to earlier detection of the disease – and who knows what else.
“And our goal is to save the NHS £245 million,” he concluded, “but more importantly, to save 10,000 lives.”