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Lung Cancer Detector

Scientists can now detect early-stage lung cancer before any symptoms develop. A new breathalyser, which has been likened to a Star Trek "Tricorder" by its inventors, can identify the chemicals produced by cancer in a patient's breath. The system uses a nanochip, which is the size of a 5p piece, to detect the signs of lung cancer, making this device the smallest, most portable and most effective testing system available.

The invention was developed by University of Cambridge researchers Billy Boyle, Andrew Koehl and David Ruiz-Alonso. Owlstone Nanotech, a spin-out from the university, is now working with clinical researchers to develop the product.

"Think of it as an electronic nose," Mr Boyle, president of Owlstone, told the Telegraph. "It's like a sniffer dog on a mobile phone. We can test people with no symptoms - they aren't coughing, there's no blood - and catch the disease at a stage where it makes a huge difference."

Lung Cancer Detector
Owlstone is currently in talks with the NHS to roll out the device across GP surgeries in the UK. At-risk groups, such as smokers aged 50 and over, could be routinely tested.

According to Mr Boyle, a national screening programme, like the current breast cancer testing system, could also be introduced.

"We've had some hugely positive feedback from the NHS," he said. "We're looking at a per test, per patient cost of between £10 and £15, which represents a huge cost-saving - it's 100 times cheaper than current detection methods."

The first devices will be introduced into clinics by September next year, he said. A product will be ready for use nationwide by 2017.

Owlstone was first launched 10 years ago, and began producing devices for the defence industry. Mr Boyle's first invention was a gadget for soldiers, which detected deadly chemicals in the air. The company has won contracts with the US Department of Defence worth more than $10m.

Owlstone is currently looking to raise $3m to $5m in investment to bring the new application for this technology to market. It is working with MedCity, which works to promote life sciences entrepreneurship in the London-Oxford-Cambridge region, to find backers and clinics willing to help develop new applications for the product.

"We could use this chip to find colon cancer, by studying the chemicals in a urine sample," said Mr Boyle. "We could also look at infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

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