February 26, 2007
Mini Lung Cancer Sensor Detects Most Cases

Dr Peter Mazzone and colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic have developed a small device that can detect cancer in breath. Cheap miniature cancer detectors will allow more frequent testing and earlier detection.

A breath test can successfully pick up lung cancer with "moderate accuracy" even in the early stages, reveals research published ahead of print in Thorax.

It could revolutionise the way cancer is detected and potentially save lives, say the authors.

The test comprises a chemical colour sensor, which detects tiny changes in the unique chemical signature of the breath of people with lung cancer.

Metabolic changes in lung cancer cells cause changes in the production and processing of volatile organic compounds, which are then breathed out

This sensor detected 3 out of 4 cases in people known to have lung cancer.

The test device is the size of a large coin.

The concept of a "gas fingerprint" for lung cancer is not new, but the kit is.

The sensor, which is slightly bigger than a quarter dollar or a two pound coin, is inexpensive and easy to use.

The small size argues for an eventual low manufacturing cost. But see the picture the previous. It looks like it gets used once. In the longer run microfluidic devices and other silicon-based miniature devices will allow continuous monitoring with electronic connections to a personal health computer. Just lying in bed your bedstand will contain sensors that'll detect a large assortment of diseases while you sleep.

Diagnosis by doctors will become the exception rather than the rule as miniature sensors embedded in bathrooms, bedrooms, cars, workplaces, and in our bodies detect and diagnose diseases automatically. Early diagnosis will enable earlier treatments and better outcomes. Also, the automated nature of diagnosis will cut the cost of diagnosis by reducing the need for human labor.

Will the net result of early diagnosis cut or increases the percentage of the time people spend knowing they are sick? It depends on how much early diagnosis enables effective treatments and cures. If early diagnosis just lets you know further in advance that you have a fatal disease then people will spend more time pondering their coming death. But for cancer I'm hoping early diagnosis will increase cure rates as more cancers get caught and removed before metastasis.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 February 26 12:10 AM  Biotech Assay Tools


Comments
Eric Pobirs said at February 26, 2007 2:10 AM:

If the one-use version is really cheap, I'd expect to see them in vending machines next to the condom selection.

Now if there were only a test this simple for STDs to go in that same vending machine.

Korch said at February 26, 2007 2:07 PM:

How long before they're required to be distributed on each pack of cigs?

Ned said at February 27, 2007 6:24 AM:

"Diagnosis by doctors will become the exception rather than the rule as miniature sensors embedded in bathrooms, bedrooms, cars, workplaces, and in our bodies detect and diagnose diseases automatically. Early diagnosis will enable earlier treatments and better outcomes. Also, the automated nature of diagnosis will cut the cost of diagnosis by reducing the need for human labor."

This is partly right and partly wrong. In medicine, new technology improves outcomes but doesn't reduce costs. Consider two present forms of cancer screening - mammography and PSA testing. These tests are widely used to screen for breast and prostate cancer, respectively. There are costs associated with them, but the real expenses come with the follow-up of positive results - additional radiographic studies and biopsies. Most of these turn out to be benign, but biopsy is the only way to find the cancers. So it will be with breath testing for lung cancer, if it pans out. There will probably be lots of false positives, necessitating CAT scans, bronchoscopies and biopsies to determine which ones are really cancer. But even if the breath test is 100% sensitive and 100% specific, which no test ever is, it will still be necessary to determine the type of tumor and its location. The result will be improved survival for patients with lung cancer but at greater expense.

Douglas Hannaq said at February 28, 2007 8:31 AM:

Amen to Korch's post. I've had regular PSAs for probably 10+ years now. One I had a couple of years back just blew through the roof. In fact, my family doc pretty much told me I had prostate cancer. Fortunately, I decided to get a second opinion from a urologist. Imagine how relieved I felt when he told me I only had prostatitis.. I took antibiotics for a couple of months and viola! My PSA was back down to where it belonged. Any "universal" test like the cancer detector may be a good early wanting sign ... but that's exactly how they should be viewed.

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