Breath tests to diagnose disease

The latest spin-out company from Oxford University, Oxford Medical Diagnostics Ltd, hopes to develop a way of diagnosing disease simply by testing someone’s breath.

Oxford Medical Diagnostics is developing laser-based techniques for the analysis of gases. The company’s initial focus is the development of a platform for detecting minute quantities of markers in exhaled breath.

The ‘breath test’ method, based on research by Professor Gus Hancock’s group in the Chemistry Department, is very sensitive, is non-invasive for the patient, and gives a result in seconds. Oxford Medical Diagnostics will develop the technology into a cost-effective desktop device for doctors to use at the point of care.

Professor Hancock, the founder of the company, is an expert at investigating gases using lasers and has published over 150 papers in the field during 28 years of research.

Human and animal breath contains hundreds of trace volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, some of which are characteristic markers for disease. Analysis of breath can help doctors to diagnose diseases, and breath tests are already used by clinicians, most commonly to diagnose stomach ulcers by monitoring the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori. Oxford Medical Diagnostics uses Cavity Enhanced Laser Spectroscopy to study the gases present in breath by detecting overtones of the fundamental frequencies of the trace compounds.

Oxford Medical Diagnostics is the latest spin-out to be launched in co-operation with IP2IPO, the AIM quoted company which specialises in commercialising university intellectual property. Under a deal made in November 2000, in return for a £20m donation towards state-of-the-art chemistry laboratories, IP2IPO is entitled to a share of the University’s equity entitlement in spin out companies from the Chemistry Department until 2015.