Researchers at The Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre have launched a clinical trial to evaluate diagnostics company Owlstone Medical’s breath test for the detection of various cancer types.

The PAN Cancer trial for Early Detection of Cancer in Breath will recruit a total of 1,500 healthy volunteers and people suspected to have cancer at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK.

“The researchers hope that validation of the technology will enable the use of breath biopsies in GP practices to determine if patients can be referred for further diagnostic tests.”

Based on Owlstone’s Breath Biopsy technology, the test is designed to analyse odorous molecules called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to identify the presence of cancer in breath samples.

The breathalyser is expected to enable non-invasive diagnosis of the disease at an early stage.

Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre lead trial investigator Rebecca Fitzgerald said: “We urgently need to develop new tools, like this breath test, which could help to detect and diagnose cancer earlier, giving patients the best chance of surviving their disease.

“Through this clinical trial we hope to find signatures in breath needed to detect cancers earlier – it’s the crucial next step in developing this technology. Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy technology is the first to test across multiple cancer types, potentially paving the way for a universal breath test.”

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Initially, the trial will enrol patients with suspected oesophageal and stomach cancers. It will be expanded to include those with prostate, kidney, bladder, liver and pancreatic cancers.

Participants will be required to breathe into the test for ten minutes to collect a sample. Owlstone will process the obtained samples at its Breath Biopsy laboratory in Cambridge.

The breath samples will be examined for VOCs in order to detect signals of different cancer types. The researchers intend to study the similarity of cancer signals along with their scope for early detection.

Furthermore, the trial will compare samples from participants who go on to develop cancer in the future with those who do not.

Owlstone Medical co-founder and CEO Billy Boyle said: “There is increasing potential for breath-based tests to aid diagnosis, sitting alongside blood and urine tests in an effort to help doctors detect and treat disease.

“Our technology has proven to be extremely effective at detecting VOCs in the breath, and we are proud to be working with Cancer Research UK as we look to apply it towards the incredibly important area of detecting early-stage disease in a range of cancers in patients.”

The researchers hope that validation of the technology will enable the use of breath biopsies in GP practices to determine if patients can be referred for further diagnostic tests.