Play video “Lung Cancer ‘Breathalyser’ Trial”
A “breathalyser” that can diagnose lung cancer will be used in two NHS hospitals this summer as part of a £1m clinical trial.
The device was originally invented by engineer Billy Boyle to detect explosives in airports and on the battlefield, but he refocused on medical applications after his wife Kate Gross, then 34, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October 2012.
Mrs Gross, who after leaving Oxford University had become a high-flying civil servant, advising prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was given a 5% chance of survival.
The LuCID (lung cancer indicator detection) project by Owlstone, the company founded by Mr Boyle, analyses the chemicals present in a person’s breath.
Diseases like lung cancer produce miniscule but unique chemical traces.
Play video “Inventor On His Wife’s Loss”
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%; Stage 4 is just 5%.
Mr Boyle told Sky News: “The great thing is the technology exists today.
“We already have the microchip, we’re working on small handheld devices in (a) GP’s office.
“It’s important to get the clinical evidence first. But we think we can have systems available, proven, within the next two years.
“And our goal is to save the NHS £245m – but more importantly to save 10,000 lives.”
After two years with cancer, Kate died early on Christmas Day, aged 36.
Mr Boyle said: “Me and my wife talked about different applications of Owlstone’s technology.
“We spent many years sitting in cancer wards in Addenbroke’s in Cambridge and down in London and you see a lot of people there.
Play video “Breathalyser That Can Detect Cancer”
“And they’re there because the disease is detected too late.
“So early detection means that you will have fewer people sitting in those waiting rooms.
“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.”
“We are looking forward to answering this question with this innovative study.”