No-one wants to be told that they have cancer. But the earliest possible diagnosis is often the key to ensuring survival. So a new technique developed by scientists wich can instantly detect cancer even in its very earliest stages, using just a simple breath-test, offers the clear hope of a major breakthrough in improving cancer survival rates.
Designed to mimic a dog's highly sensitive
sense of smell, the new "electronic nose"
takes a sample of the patient's breath and
gives an instant reading - not only of whether
cancer is present, but how far advanced it is.
Early tests for the device have already shown
extremely exciting results.
Known as the NA-NOSE (short for Nano
Artificial Nose), the test works by spotting
microscopic changes in the body that occur
when cancer is present.
By detecting cancer without having to wait
for tumours to grow, the NA-NOSE offers a
unique early warning system that could save
thousands of lives, allowing cancers to be
diagnosed and treated earlier than has ever
been possible before. It would be especially
valuable in diagnosing cancers that are
otherwise hard to detect in time.
Nor does it stop with cancer. The NA-NOSE
will potentially be able to pick up early signs
of other serious diseases as well, such as
Parkinson's, Kidney Disease, Liver Disease,
Alzheimer's or MS – making it truly a "'wonder
"At first, I thought to myself this is science fiction.
It can't be true", says Professor
Abraham Kuten, one of the scientists involved
in developing the NA-NOSE. But based on
the successful results so far, Professor Kuten
says, it could turn out to be "a very important
tool in the early detection of cancer."
The potentially breakthrough project was funded
by a € 1.7 million Marie Curie Excellence
Team grant from the European Commission.
These grants are designed to enable promising
researchers to carry out leading-edge research
of particular importance to Europe.
In the case of the NA-NOSE, that grant could
be repaid many times over in saved health
care costs, if early test results are anything
to go by.
When breath-tests were carried out on an initial
group of 62 volunteers - some with head and
neck cancer, some with lung cancer, and some
of whom were healthy - the NA-NOSE correctly
diagnosed all of the patients with the two types
of cancer. It also correctly identified all but two of the healthy patients
of the healthy patients.
The secret of the NA-NOSE lies in a row of
sub-microscopic (nanoparticle) gold sensors,
which can detect tiny molecular changes that
occur in the blood of cancer patients. They can
do this at levels of concentration so low that
it has been likened to detecting one single
flower in a vast field of flowers - using the
sense of smell alone.
Using these tiny molecular traces, the device
can not only detect cancer but also distinguish
between different types of cancer including
lung, breast, colorectal, prostate, head and
The scientist who led the research, Professor
Hossam Haick of the Israel Institute of
Technology (Technion), was inspired to
carry out the research after witnessing the sufferings of a friend who had leukaemia.
Extensive further testing of the NA-NOSE
will be required. But if all goes well, says
Professor Haick, it could be in use for breast
and colorectal cancer patients within three
years and for other types of cancer in about
Thanks to this revolutionary new "electronic
nose", with its promise of reliable, noninvasive
and inexpensive early diagnosis,
screening for cancer could be on the verge of
entering a whole new world.
The ability to literally "sniff out" cancer and
other major diseases could indeed become a