Whenever people think of lung cancer, they are likely to associate the disease with tobacco use. However, exposure to asbestos is a potential risk factor as well. The link between these two diseases drives scientific research into several directions, from studies on how to treat the illness to the creation of better diagnostic tools. The latter is especially important because better detection can lead to a more effective treatment.
At Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is Israel’s oldest university, scientists joined forces with the device manufacturer Alpha Szenszor to develop a product that can diagnose lung cancer simply by analyzing samples of the air that individuals exhale.
Different tools are available – and invasive
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the telltale signs of lung cancer as wheezing, difficulty breathing, unexplained weight loss and coughing, which may be bloody. If lung cancer is caused by asbestos exposure, symptoms can take 15 years after initial contact with the toxic material to develop.
The American Cancer Society lists several tools that doctors have at their disposal for diagnosing lung cancer. These include imaging scans of the chest, such as chest X-rays, MRI, CT and PET. However, these radiological tests often need to be confirmed with the help of other, more invasive diagnostic tools, such as thoracentesis, which analyzes the fluid that builds up around the lungs, or a biopsy, which collects cell samples from the tumors themselves.
Breathe in, breathe out
Scientists are always trying to find better ways to diagnose diseases. When it comes to lung cancer, this could mean creating a test that is less invasive and easier to use on patients. Collaborators at Technion and Alpha Szenszor believe that an answer may be found the breaths that patients exhale.
Within the air that individuals breath out are substances known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Researchers from the Netherlands note that diseases such as lung cancer cause the lungs to release distinctive VOCs because of inflammation. Developing technology that could diagnose lung cancer and other conditions, simply by analyzing the VOCs in patients breaths, could prove useful. Compared to biopsies, this approach would be less invasive and easier for patients to endure.
“At Alpha Szenszor, we are excited to be working with one of the world’s premier research institutes in a field where the transformational benefits to human life have been so clearly demonstrated,” CEO Steve Lerner said in a statement. “We look forward to this partnership with Technion as a critical step in the validation of early stage diagnostics through direct digital detection of gaseous biomarkers.”
Lung cancer numbers are on the rise
A new tool, such as the one that Technion and Alpha Szenszor plan to commercialize, will be especially valuable in light of the changing dynamics of diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Specifically, the Environmental Working Group estimates that asbestos-induced lung cancer claims the lives of about 4,800 individuals in the U.S. every year. This in addition to other asbestos-related diseases, such as malignant pleural mesothelioma, gastrointestinal cancers and asbestosis, which, when combined with lung cancer, cause nearly 10,000 deaths every year.
Adding to the urgent need for new diagnostic tools is the fact that the incidences of these diseases will only increase during the next 10 years or so. At Kazan Law, we are happy to support and promote scientific research that will help us curb these trends.