A small breathalyzer that has been designed to detect the early signs of lung cancer has started clinical trials in 17 British hospitals.
The new technology has been developed by Cambridge-based Owlstone Medical and uses a tiny microchip sensor which can measure the volatile organic compounds in the the patient's' exhaled breath.
Current techniques often involved using large, room-sized pieces of equipment and can take a long period of time to produce an accurate result.
Owlstone's technology was initially designed for detecting explosive and toxic gases but has now been reprogrammed to hunt for the chemical markers of lung cancer.
Co-founder and CEO of Owlstone Medical Billy Boyle believes that now they can effectively shrink the technology they'll be overcome many of the barriers that prevent effective treatment of the disease.
"The challenge is most people present when it's very late stage, and it's about managing symptoms as opposed to curing them. So the key thing that you can do is detect the disease early; and that's what we think the breathalyzer technology allows for," he said.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the world, killing around 1.5 million people every year.
Only 10 per cent of those diagnosed live for more than five years, and it's believed that late diagnosis plays a key role in that statistic.
If people are diagnosed much earlier conventional treatments have a far greater chance of being effective.
The trial is the largest of its kind and involves over 3,000 people across 17 different hospitals.
Each of those people in the trial have already been referred for a biopsy because there is concern that they may have lung cancer.
Before the biopsy each patient will then do a breath test, the biopsy will then be carried out and the results compared.
While Boyle sees his breathalyzer making it into GP surgeries, he has even greater ambitions for the technology.
"The chip today is already incredibly small, so it's not that hard to envisage how you could put it not only into GP's surgeries, but also into other places where sensor technology can be used directly by patients, by consumers - so they can take control of their own health data and their own health destiny."
According to Reuters, there are 45,000 new cases of lung cancer every year in the UK, costing the NHS around £2.5 billion pounds. Owlstone's goal is to save 10,000 of those lives, and in turn save the NHS £245m.
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