Earlier this year, we told you about efforts to invent machines that can examine your breath for signs of mesothelioma.
You might remember us mentioning that these efforts are underway in several countries around the world.
The latest news on this front comes from Belgium. Researchers there have been studying the idea of breath testing to see if it’s possible to spot pleural mesothelioma in its earliest stages.
But these researchers aren’t trying to invent a breath-testing machine. Instead, they’re working with current and widely used lab equipment to make sure the concept of breath testing isn’t a pipe dream.
The results of this research are making the scientists happy. They say that their testing shows it is possible to make a fairly accurate mesothelioma diagnosis just from exhaled breath.
Signs of Mesothelioma in Air You Exhale
The pieces of equipment being used by the Belgian scientists have actually been around for a long time.
One of them dates back to the 1950s – the U.S. Army now has about 50,000 of them to help detect hidden explosives. And there about 10,000 more in airports worldwide to help sniff out drugs.
The first piece of equipment the Belgian scientists used is a multicapillary column chromatography machine. The other one is a spectrometry unit that measures ion mobility.
The researchers paired these devices so they could see exactly what’s in the air coming from a person’s lungs.
The multicapillary column is basically a tube with its inside divided into a honeycomb of smaller tubes. Exhaled air is sent through this honeycomb.
Whatever chemicals or organic compounds are in the exhaled air separate into their individual ions as they drift through the honeycomb of tubes. The spectrometry device then reveals what those separated ions are.
The ion mobility spectrometry unit is sensitive enough that it can identify traces of organic compounds that signify mesothelioma.
The researchers used these two pieces of equipment in tests conducted with the help of 66 volunteers.
Breath-Test Results Identify Mesothelioma in Majority of Participants
The researchers wrote about their tests and the results in The Journal of Breath Research.
There were 23 volunteers who had been previously diagnosed the old-fashioned way. They were found to have malignant pleural mesothelioma.
There were 22 others who had not been diagnosed with mesothelioma. They didn’t even have symptoms. But they had been exposed to asbestos. This exposure happened at their workplaces.
The remaining 21 people in the study didn’t have mesothelioma, either. The difference with them was that none had been exposed to asbestos. So they were labeled as perfectly healthy.
Breath samples were taken from all 66 study participants. The samples were then run through the two machines.
The researchers noticed they could have given a mesothelioma diagnosis from just a reading of exhaled air and been right about it 76 percent of the time.
That was far from a perfect score. But it was good enough to lead the researchers to think that breath testing for mesothelioma could be useful.
They said this type of testing could spot mesothelioma at the earliest stages when treatment can be the most effective. It could also serve as a screening tool to identify people at serious risk for mesothelioma.
The title of their article is “Detection of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma in Exhaled Breath by Multicapillary Column/Ion Mobility Spectrometry (MCC/IMS).”
The researchers are from Ghent University, Leuven University Hospitals and Antwerp University Hospital, all in Belgium. Also participating were Belgium’s Occupational Health Service and Australia’s University of Wollongong in New South Wales.