An artificial nose could hold the key in detecting head-and-neck (HNC), according to scientists.
The results1 have shown the man-made Nanoscale Artificial Nose (NA-NOSE), developed at the Israel Institute of Technology2, can effectively distinguish between head-and-neck cancer patients, lung cancer patients and those free of oral cancer simply by sampling a breath test.
Head-and-neck cancer is the eighth most common curable cancer worldwide and is often diagnosed late due to a lack of successful screening methods.
Research suggests overall cure is achieved in less than one in two patients, while sufferers often develop a second primary tumour that can affect the entire aero-digestive tract, making lifelong follow-up necessary.
As this appears to be the first study of its kind, Chief Executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, believes more needs to be done in order to validate this promising breakthrough in the battle against oral cancer.
Dr Carter said: “The discovery of an effective screening method for a cancer which kills one person every five hours in the UK using a relatively simple method represents excellent progress. However, the Foundation urges greater investigation into the feasibility of using such a device on a larger scale.
“The Foundation runs Mouth Cancer Action throughout November under the tagline ‘If in doubt, get checked out’. The campaign aims to raise awareness of mouth cancer among the public and encourage people to visit their dentist or doctor for regular check-ups. If a breath test could hold the key to discovering mouth cancer, it would provide a simple, cost-effective, fast, and reliable method for practices across the country to diagnose patients.”
1. Methods: Alveolar breath was collected from 87 volunteers (HNC and LC patients and healthy controls) in a cross-sectional clinical trial. The discriminative power of a tailor-made Nanoscale Artificial Nose (NA-NOSE) based on an array of five gold nanoparticle sensors was tested, using 62 breath samples. The NA-NOSE signals were analysed to detect statistically significant differences between the sub-populations using (i) principal component analysis with ANOVA and Student’s t-test and (ii) support vector machines and cross-validation. The identification of NA-NOSE patterns was supported by comparative analysis of the chemical composition of the breath through gas chromatography in conjunction with mass spectrometry (GC-MS), using 40 breath samples. Results: The NA-NOSE could clearly distinguish between (i) HNC patients and healthy controls, (ii) LC patients and healthy controls, and (iii) HNC and LC patients. The GC-MS analysis showed statistically significant differences in the chemical composition of the breath of the three groups. Conclusion: The presented results could lead to the development of a cost-effective, fast, and reliable method for the differential diagnosis of HNC that is based on breath testing with an NA-NOSE, with a future potential as screening tool.
2. Hakim, M., Billan, S., Tisch, U., Peng, G., Dvrokind, I., Marom, O., Abdah-Bortnyak, R., Kuten A., Haick, H. (2011) Diagnosis of head-and-neck cancer from exhaled breath, British Journal of Cancer, 104, 1649-1655.
Source: British Dental Health Foundation