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Breathe easy for cancer diagnosis
20 November 2009
Scientists in the UK and Czech Republic take a step closer towards a non-invasive diagnostic breath test for early stage lung cancer.
Early diagnosis is essential in the battle against cancer and current diagnoses based on blood sampling and biopsies can be distressing for patients. Breath analysis provides a non-invasive and painless way of detecting malignant cells and a simple breath sample is easy to take from children and frail patients.
A sample of breath can be used to test for lung cancer
David Smith at Keele University, UK, and his team have found that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are generated by cell cultures in proportion to the number of cancer cells and could be used as biomarkers for tumors. Following some conflicting results, Smith's team optimised their selected ion flow mass spectrometry (SIFT-MS) method to measure the acetaldehyde emitted by both malignant and non-malignant cells cultured in vitro. Smith was able to exploit a recent advance in SIFT-MS which allowed the production of carbon dioxide to be measured as well.
The study confirmed that the different lung cell lines had different VOC signatures, says Smith. 'This extremely interesting finding paves the way for detecting particular cells (including tumour cells) on the basis of their VOC signature' says Claire Turner, an expert in VOC analysis at the Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. 'The long term significance is that it may be possible to not only detect cancer through VOC analysis but also to non-invasively identify the tumour type'.
'This work will be continued with the investigation of other cell types, malignant and non-malignant, in the search for volatile biomarkers of other cancers' adds Smith. He hopes that in future the technique could be introduced into the GP's surgery to allow routine and opportunistic screening for cancer and also for other diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
George Hanna, a consultant surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, London, UK, agrees that this could be possible, saying '[this technique] has the potential to change clinical practice being a simple non-invasive test. It is ideally placed to be a practical screening test that changes clinical practice.'
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Link to journal article
Quantification of acetaldehyde and carbon dioxide in the headspace of malignant and non-malignant lung cells in vitro by SIFT-MS
Josep Sulé-Suso, Andriy Pysanenko, Patrik panl and David Smith, Analyst, 2009, 134, 2419
Also of interest
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Doctors could one day give health check-ups by analysing our breath, UK chemists say.