UK scientists are testing a breathalyzer for earlier mesothelioma detection

A UK-based medical manufacturer has announced that it will start running clinical trials to test whether a disease breathalyzer can detect malignant mesothelioma before the disease’s symptoms start to appear.

Cambridge-based Owlstone Medical will be partnering with the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers (IAHFIAW) in the U.S. and Canada. IAHFIAW members are at high risk of developing mesothelioma.


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Those who work in construction and manufacturing are at particularly high risk of asbestos exposure and mesothelioma, according to Vogelzang Law. But because of the disease’s lengthy latency period of 40-50 years, mesothelioma can be difficult to diagnose until it’s in its later stages.

According to Owlstone’s press release, the company will be testing the device, known as Breath Biopsy. The device will analyze various chemicals found in IAHFIAW members who have documented exposure to asbestos and have confirmed malignant mesothelioma.

The project will be divided into two phases. First, scientists will identify the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the participants’ breath. The next step will be to conduct a blind study to determine whether present biomarkers are predictive of having the disease.

All of the breath samples will be collected using the ReCIVA Breath Sampler from Owlstone Medical. The samples will be analyzed at the company’s Breath Biopsy Laboratory in Cambridge.

The study is expected to last three years and is being partly funded by the non-profit organization Tissue Bank Asbestos Research Charitable Trust.

Earlier diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma can lead to more effective treatment and a longer life. Currently, early detection of the disease is challenging, which leads to poor prognosis for patients. The median survival rate is 9-12 months from diagnosis.

The disease is not common, but the number of people at risk of the disease is significant. More than 100 million people in the United States alone have been exposed to asbestos fibers. An additional 1.3 million U.S. workers are exposed to asbestos every year.

Because malignant mesothelioma is perceived as a rare condition, little research has been conducted to date on the early detection or treatment of the disease. Late diagnosis of the disease often means that surgery is not a viable option for patients.

“Through this partnership, we are looking not only to advance the early diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma, but also to demonstrate that breath-based screening has the potential to have a substantial impact on a wide range of environment-driven disease,” said Billy Boyle, founder of Owlstone Medical.


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