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Breathalyzer for Cancer

Photonics.com
Aug 2008
NORMAN, Okla., Aug. 28, 2008 – Studies have shown that dogs can detect cancer by smelling certain gasses on the breath of patients, but unfortunately dogs can’t tell us exactly what gasses they smell.

Intrigued by the concept of using breath analysis to detect cancer, Patrick McCann and a small group of internationally known researchers at the University of Oklahoma, are working to create a sensor to detect biomarker gases that are exhaled in the breath of a person with cancer.

By using mid-infrared laser technology to help elucidate the relationship between specific gas phase biomarker molecules and cancer, McCann believes it is possible to develop easy-to-use detection devices for hard-to-detect cancers, such as lung cancer.

Early detection significantly improves survival rates, but current diagnostic tests often fail to detect cancer in the earliest stages. McCann says the science and technology exist to support the development of a new tool to detect cancer, but the research will take from five to 10 years to get low-cost devices into the clinic.

“Improved methods to detect molecules have been demonstrated, and more people need to be using these methods to detect molecules given off from cancer,” said McCann. “We have developed laser-based methods to detect molecules. Mid-infrared lasers can measure suspected cancer biomarkers - ethane, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.”

McCann intends to use nanotechnology to improve laser performance and shrink laser systems, which would allow battery-powered operation of a handheld sensor device.

“A device that measures cancer specific gases in exhaled breath would change medical research as we know it,” he added.

“You often have to go outside your discipline to pioneer new areas of research and Oklahoma has an advantage with so many experts in other fields. But getting funding for interdisciplinary research is challenging,” said McCann. “However, more capital and research infrastructure are needed for this device to become a reality. As we build upon our existing capabilities Oklahoma can become more widely known as a center of excellence in this important area.”

Even though McCann is not a cancer researcher, he wants his research on developing innovative laser technology to benefit the millions of people who would otherwise suffer from a late-stage cancer diagnosis.

“The science supports it, and the dogs tell us there is something there,” added McCann.

For more information, visit: www.ou.edu



GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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