Researchers inch closer to breath test for lung cancer

A biomarker detectable in the breath of lung cancer patients holds promise for an accurate diagnostic, and researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have taken another stride toward making that a reality.

The basic hypothesis is that cancer cells release a unique chemical signature during the tumor-growing process, and researchers believe they can use high-tech sensors to ferret out that biomarker in patients' breath. Now, experts at the Cleveland Clinic are putting that theory to the test and reporting some positive results.

Led by Peter Mazzone, director of the Cleveland Clinic's lung cancer program, researchers brought in 82 patients with biopsy-confirmed lung cancer and another 155 who were either at risk for the disease or had benign lung nodules. Each patient was asked to breathe into a high-dimensional chemical sensor, which changes colors in the presence of certain materials, including the telltale signs of lung cancer. In the end, the colorimetric sensor array accurately distinguished between patients with cancer and the control group, lighting the way for broader research into a promising diagnostic.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, follows early work by researchers from Israel and the U.S. to identify the trace volatile organic compounds lung cancer leaves in patients' breath. And while the technology will require much follow-up before it can be commercialized, ACCP President-elect Michael Baumann said it presents a meaningful advance in diagnosing a deadly disease.

"Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States," Baumann said in a statement. "We welcome the cutting-edge research that can help in diagnosis and treatment of this devastating illness."

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