The system, developed by a team from the company’s Corporate Technology research base, uses a quadrupole mass spectrometer to analyse the molecules in a patient’s breath, which can be reliable indicators of a range of different medical conditions.
The device works by applying an electrical charge to the substances in the breath and accelerating them through an electrical field that affects their trajectory. Particles of different weights are deflected to different degrees and thus land at different places on the detectors, enabling clinicians to build up a molecular ‘fingerprint’ of the patient’s breath.
The team is particularly excited about the potential use of technology to diagnose tuberculosis and lung cancer. Early detection of tuberculosis could help reduce the spread of a disease that affected 8.7 million people around the world last year, while more rapid diagnosis of lung cancer should improve patient survival rates.
Following promising preliminary results from tests using breath samples from cancer and tuberculosis patients, the group is now about to begin larger clinical trials.
Last year The Engineer reported that a similar breath analysis device was being trialled by a team at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
You can also read our feature on diagnostic breathalysers here.