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Inventor turns bomb detector into cancer breathalyser

Clinical trials of Billy Boyle's device will be held in two NHS hospitals

Lung cancerA new breathalyser device that can detect lung cancer will be trialled in two NHS hospitals in a £1m clinical study.

The device was invented by engineer Billy Boyle and was originally employed to detect explosives in airports and on the battlefield.

After his wife was diagnosed with colon cancer three years' ago, Boyle decided to try and adapt it for medical use.

Kate Gross, who was only 34 when diagnosed in October 2012, was given just a 5% chance of survival. She died two years later.

The test has now been developed for lung cancer, and is known as the LuCID (lung cancer indicator detection) project.

It is being run by Owlstone, the company founded by Boyle, and works by analysing the chemicals present in a person's breath.

Diseases like lung cancer produce miniscule but unique chemical traces and this can indicate illness long before symptoms become obvious - when survival rates are much higher.

The survival rate for stage 1 lung cancer is 75% while stage 4 is just 5%.

Boyle said: “It's important to get the clinical evidence first. But we think we can have systems available, proven, within the next two years.”

He added: "Because of the experience of my wife and my family, we saw the devastation that cancer brings to families, in the various hospitals that we've been.

"You develop technologies for a reason. Sometimes it's for monetary gain. Other times it's to make a difference. And I think we have a real opportunity to try and improve the lives of patients."

Owlstone's technology can be applied to other diseases too, including bowel cancer, tuberculosis and asthma.

Dr Jonathan Bennett, a consultant respiratory physician at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester, told Sky News: "If successful, this test could be delivered locally - for example at GP surgeries and pharmacies for people assessed at being high risk."

Article by
Ben Adams

10th February 2015

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