Breathalyzer test may detect deadliest cancer

June 18, 2014

Lung cancer causes more deaths in the U.S. than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast, and pancreatic). The reason for the striking mortality rate is simple: poor detection. Lung cancer attacks without leaving any fingerprints, quietly afflicting its victims and metastasizing uncontrollably – to the point of no return.

Now a new device developed by a team of Israeli, American, and British cancer researchers may turn the tide by both accurately detecting and identifying its stage of progression. The breathalyzer test, embedded with a "NaNose" nanotech chip to literally "sniff out" cancer tumors, was developed by Prof. Nir Peled of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Prof. Hossam Haick (inventor) of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, and Prof. Fred Hirsch of the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver.

The study, presented at a recent American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago, was conducted on 358 patients who were either diagnosed with or at risk for lung cancer. The participants enrolled at UC Denver, Tel Aviv University, University of Liverpool, and a Jacksonville, Florida, radiation center. Other researchers included Prof. Paul Bunn of UC Denver; Prof. Douglas Johnson, Dr. Stuart Milestone, and Dr. John Wells in Jacksonville; Prof. John Field of the University of Liverpool; and Dr. Maya Ilouze and Tali Feinberg of TAU.

The smell of cancer

"Lung cancer is a devastating disease, responsible for almost 2,000 deaths in Israel annually – a third of all cancer-related deaths," said Dr. Peled. "Lung cancer diagnoses require invasive procedures such as bronchoscopies, computer-guided biopsies, or surgery. Our new device combines several novel technologies with a new concept – using exhaled breath as a medium of diagnosing cancer.

"Our NaNose was able to detect lung cancer with 90 percent accuracy even when the lung nodule was tiny and hard to sample. It was even able to discriminate between subtypes of cancer, which was unexpected," said Dr. Peled.

Lung cancer tumors produce chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which easily evaporate into the air and produce a discernible scent profile. Prof. Haick harnessed nanotechnology to develop the highly sensitive NaNose chip, which detects the unique "signature" of VOCs in exhaled breath. In four out of five cases, the device differentiated between benign and malignant lung lesions and even different cancer subtypes.

The bigger the tumor …

"Cancer cells not only have a different and unique smell or signature, you can even discriminate between subtypes and advancement of the disease," said Dr. Peled. "The bigger the tumor, the more robust the signature."

The device and subsequent analysis accurately sorted healthy people from people with early-stage lung cancer 85 percent of the time, and healthy people from those with advanced lung cancer 82 percent of the time. The test also accurately distinguished between early and advanced lung cancer 79 percent of the time.

"The device could prove valuable in helping determine patients who need more intensive screening for lung cancer," said Dr. Peled. "We're hoping to have a device that would be able to give you a go/no-go result – something's wrong, go get an X-ray."

The Boston-based company Alpha Szenszor has licensed the technology and hopes to introduce it to the market within the next few years. Meanwhile, a new, smaller version of the has since been developed that can plug into a computer's USB port.

Explore further: One step closer to a breath test for lung cancer

Related Stories

One step closer to a breath test for lung cancer

May 31, 2014
Results of a University of Colorado Cancer Center study presented at the 50th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) show that a test of organic compounds in exhaled breath can not only distinguish ...

Exhaled breath biomarker may detect lung cancer

October 28, 2013
Researchers at Cleveland Clinic recently discovered that lung cancer may be detected in patients by testing their exhaled breath. Preliminary studies suggest that an accurate exhaled breath biomarker could be developed for ...

Breath test may detect signs of lung cancer, study finds

January 28, 2014
(HealthDay)—A simple breath test might reveal if a person has early-stage lung cancer, according to a new study.

Researchers develop process to help personalize treatment for lung cancer patients

June 3, 2014
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers, in collaboration with the Lung Cancer Mutation Consortium, have developed a process to analyze mutated genes in lung adenocarcinoma to help better select personalized treatment options for ...

Breath analysis offers non-invasive method to detect early lung cancer

April 29, 2014
Researchers at the University of Louisville School of Medicine are using breath analysis to detect the presence of lung cancer. Preliminary data indicate that this promising noninvasive tool offers the sensitivity of PET ...

Trial seeks to sniff out lung cancer

June 19, 2012
Cancer smells different. Past research has shown that dogs can detect lung cancer in a person’s breath with great accuracy. But dogs are  tricky to use as a diagnostic tool; what does it mean when a dog barks once ...

Recommended for you

Shooting the achilles heel of nervous system cancers

July 20, 2017
Virtually all cancer treatments used today also damage normal cells, causing the toxic side effects associated with cancer treatment. A cooperative research team led by researchers at Dartmouth's Norris Cotton Cancer Center ...

Molecular changes with age in normal breast tissue are linked to cancer-related changes

July 20, 2017
Several known factors are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer including increasing age, being overweight after menopause, alcohol intake, and family history. However, the underlying biologic mechanisms through ...

Immune-cell numbers predict response to combination immunotherapy in melanoma

July 20, 2017
Whether a melanoma patient will better respond to a single immunotherapy drug or two in combination depends on the abundance of certain white blood cells within their tumors, according to a new study conducted by UC San Francisco ...

Discovery could lead to better results for patients undergoing radiation

July 19, 2017
More than half of cancer patients undergo radiotherapy, in which high doses of radiation are aimed at diseased tissue to kill cancer cells. But due to a phenomenon known as radiation-induced bystander effect (RIBE), in which ...

Definitive genomic study reveals alterations driving most medulloblastoma brain tumors

July 19, 2017
The most comprehensive analysis yet of medulloblastoma has identified genomic changes responsible for more than 75 percent of the brain tumors, including two new suspected cancer genes that were found exclusively in the least ...

Novel CRISPR-Cas9 screening enables discovery of new targets to aid cancer immunotherapy

July 19, 2017
A novel screening method developed by a team at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology to test the function of thousands of tumor genes in mice—has ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rockwolf1000
not rated yet Jun 18, 2014
I remember reading about dogs that could smell cancer.

Not sure why that concept wasn't explored further.

I hope this new device works well and is adopted soon. Good work!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.