Lung tissue is very delicate, allowing disease to spread quickly. As with all cancers, early detection for lung cancer is critical to long-term survival. Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Unfortunately, diagnosing lung cancer involves extensive imaging, biopsies, and sputum cytology, which aren’t performed until after the patient becomes symptomatic. However, a new diagnostic tool could diagnose lung cancer in a much less invasive fashion, using only a sample of the patient’s breath. The research was presented at the meeting of the American Society for Clinical Oncology in Chicago.
The device is called Nanoscale Artificial NOSE (NA-NOSE) and uses gold nanoparticles to detect compounds in the breath that indicate lung cancer. Not only that, but it could also detect how advanced the disease is. This device was inspired by the ability of dogs, fruit flies, and other organisms to “sniff out” disease.
In one of the most recent studies, the device was tested on a 80 individuals with lung cancer and 31 people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is non-cancerous, but can impede breathing and lead to a persistent cough. NA-NOSE was able to correctly differentiate between those with lung cancer and those with COPD around for about 85% of the trials. It was also 79% accurate in determining the stage of the cancer. Other studies with the device have shown similar results.
While some at a higher risk for developing lung cancer have received yearly CT screenings, the images are unable to determine cancerous growths versus those that are benign. This results in a great deal of false positives which are only ruled out later after more invasive testing has been completed. While this method does catch more cases of lung cancer, it also puts a tremendous amount of stress on those who don’t have cancer, as well as taking up their time and money. Over the span of five years, it is estimated that yearly CT screenings will cost the cash-strapped Medicare $9.3 billion.
In the future, NA-NOSE could provide similar early detection screening as CT at a much cheaper rate with fewer false positives. Results would also be available almost immediately, and will not require a physician to be specialized in order to operate the device or interpret the results. The patient would merely blow up a balloon, which the medical professional would then take and run through the device, which is about the size of a desktop computer.
The researchers behind NA-NOSE claim that the applications of the device can extend beyond detection of lung cancer. It could also be used to detect other medical maladies, have uses in homeland security, and monitoring compounds in the environment as well.