The Worst Breath of All

Researchers in Germany are working on a breath device that could detect early-stage lung cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Researchers are working to develop a new diagnostics platform to detect lung cancer earlier, including a device that detects protein biomarkers in exhaled air.

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Leipzig have teamed up with colleagues at the University Clinic of Leipzig to develop a procedure that would reveal the presence of lung-cancer cells in exhaled air, making early detection easier. Early detection of lung cancer is often difficult because complaints from patients that would tip off a physician to the presence of a tumor often resemble less serious conditions like the cough and chronic inflammation from bronchitis. Patients may just live with the cough and discomfort instead of getting it looked at.

There are certain biomarkers in exhaled air that suggest the presence of cancerous tumor cells in the lungs. Dr. Jörg Lehmann, head of the Cell Engineering/GLP Unit at the Fraunhoer Institute said the most challenging aspect of developing the cancer breathalyzer device is finding a reliable way to distinguish cancer from chronic inflammatory disease.

The technique, which is still too elaborate and expensive to implement in general practitioner offices yet, would require a patient to breathe into a piece of equipment for about 20 minutes. The exhaled breath condensate is evaporated before special antibodies that recognize substances such as the protein VEGF (responsible for stimulating the growth of new blood vessels) are employed to detect biomarkers.

The scientists' next goal is to produce a prototype that can be used in a clinical-diagnostic study before heading to the production stage.

Lung cancer is the most common cancer, accounting for one in three cancer cases. Tumors of the lung claim more lives than any form of cancer worldwide.

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Review Date: 
February 3, 2011
Last Updated:
August 18, 2011