New tool can smell cancer

August 27th, 2008 - 2:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 27 (IANS) Researchers are developing a new tool to smell and identify specific gases exhaled in the breath of a person with cancer, for its early detection. The evidence is clear - gas molecules are uniquely associated with cancer. But current diagnostic tests not only often fail to detect cancer in the earliest stages but also expose patients to harmful radiation.

Studies showing how dogs sniffed out cancer inspired this research. For example, dogs identified breast and lung cancer patients with accuracies of 88 and 97 percent, respectively, as reported in Integrative Cancer Therapies.

Intrigued by the concept of using breath-analysis to detect cancer, Patrick McCann of Oklahoma University, who led researchers, saw an opportunity to use mid-infrared laser technology to help clarify the link between biomarker molecules in exhaled gases and cancer. The findings were reported in the July issue of Applied Optics.

McCann believes it is possible to develop easy-to-use detection devices for cancer, but said research will take another five to 10 years to get low-cost devices into the clinic.

While dogs are known to smell cancers, they can’t tell us what gases they smell. It’s up to the medical research community using the best measurement tools to figure that out, said McCann.

“Mid-infrared lasers can measure suspected cancer biomarkers - ethane, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde,” said McCann, who will use nanotechnology to improve laser performance and shrink laser systems, which would allow battery-powered operation of a handheld sensor device.

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