(CNN) – A breathalyzer designed to detect multiple cancers early is being tested in the UK.
Several illnesses are known to create signature smells from the body, including typhoid fever reported to smell like baked bread and the aroma of acetone, said to be similar to rotten apples, on the breath of diabetics. Recent research has also shown that a person’s breath could also indicate the presence of cancer.
To test this theory, Cancer Research UK have launched a two-year trial into a clinical device, called the Breath Biopsy, to find out if exhaled airborne molecules can be useful for cancer detection.
In the body’s normal metabolic processes, molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are produced. It’s thought that cancer can create a different pattern of VOCs, which researchers hope to identify using the device. “Our goal is, can we spot these subtle differences?,” Billy Boyle, co-founder and CEO at Owlstone Medical which developed the device, told CNN.
The trial, which is being run by the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, is recruiting up to 1,500 participants, including healthy people to act as a control group.
Patients with stomach and esophageal cancers will initially be asked to try the test, before expanding to patients with prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.
Participants will be asked to breathe into the device for 10 minutes to provide a sample, which will be analyzed by Owlstone Medical’s laboratory in Cambridge.
The idea is to identify if cancer signals are similar or different and how early any signals could be picked up. If some people go on to develop cancer, their samples will be compared to those who don’t develop the disease.