Breathalyzer Aims to Predict Cancer

Breathalyzer Aims to Predict Cancer

The ReCIVA (as in “respiration collector for in vitro analysis”) breath sampler can detect the kinds of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in people’s breath that are early indicators of lung cancer, colon cancer, and other diseases. It’s meant to substitute for costlier, more invasive CT scans and biopsies.

How It Works

① Put the sampler’s mask on your face and breathe, and an embedded sensor ionizes the VOCs you exhale to register a sort of chemical fingerprint.

② A PC connected to the mask apparatus analyzes the readings to determine whether you should receive further tests for one or more of dozens of diseases.

Innovator: Billy Boyle, age 39
Chief executive officer of Owlstone Medical Ltd., a 100-employee startup in Cambridge, England

Origin: Boyle, a Belfast native, spent a decade researching ways VOCs could help diagnose, say, complications from chemical warfare. He shifted to civilian applications in 2016, after his wife died of colon cancer at age 36, leaving him with twins.

Funding: Owlstone has raised $38.5 million in venture funding to expand, including by building U.S. labs.

Testing: Hospitals in a half-dozen European countries are helping conduct Phase II clinical trials, supported by $1.6 million from the U.K.’s National Health Service.

Next Steps

In November, Owlstone teamed up with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc to try to identify markers for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects about 329 million people around the world. Boyle says he hopes to have the breathalyzers in clinics late next year and sell them for less than $100 each. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, says Owlstone’s early successes make it a leader in the emerging field but that clinical trials and further diagnostic tests are among the remaining hurdles before the technology has a chance to reach the mainstream.

 

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