The same principle used in a breathalyzer test to test for blood alcohol levels could soon be used to detect mesothelioma.
How a Breathalyzer Works
A breathalyzer is a device that includes a mouthpiece and a chamber. The person breathes into the mouthpiece and the air goes into the chamber. Inside the chamber is a chemical that reacts with a particular type of compound. The reaction causes a change of color in the chemical from the presence of that compound.
In the case of a breathalyzer test for alcohol, the chemical in the chamber is potassium dichromate. When alcohol is in the breath of the individual, the potassium dichromate changes from reddish-orange to green. This change would not occur if alcohol was not in the breath, making it a clear indication that the person was drinking alcohol.
VOCs Easily Detected
There are thousands of volatile organic compounds that can be detected in the air. For example, when you walk through a garden, you may smell scents of pine, flowers, other plants, molds, and even bacteria. If you’re on a farm, whiffs of animal scents can be detected. And if you’re near a body of water, you may detect the odors of fish, boats, or other surrounding smells. Your nose may be sensitive to any of these volatile organic compounds.
If you know a scent-detecting dog for the police department, you’ll also know that this dog’s nose is 1000-10,000 times more sensitive to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than humans. Scents have their own science, and it’s called olfactory science.
Olfactory science can be made quite analytical, and when it is, a chemical has a certain ‘fingerprint’ of what it looks like using scientific testing. Its light waves may look like a hill or a mountain that reaches a certain height on a spectroscopic test, one that is unique and different from every other chemical.
Over 1000 VOCs are present in the breath. These can come from what’s happening in the mouth with your teeth, such as bacteria left on the teeth from your last meal. Other than that, odors from these VOCs in your breath come from genetic pathway abnormalities, changes in metabolic activity, probiotics in the body in the gut and other organs, and infectious organisms. Thus, you can essentially have a ‘Breath Biopsy’ with a breath test. There’s a wealth of information waiting to be detected in your breath, and it’s only a matter of identifying and validating certain breath biomarkers to determine one’s overall health status.
Breathalyzer For Mesothelioma Patients
Michael Harbut, M.D. plans on using this wealth of information for good, and apply the information for identifying those who have mesothelioma long before other currently done tests can be done. The problem with these other tests, such as the CAT scan, for mesothelioma is that by the time it is done, the condition has progressed to a later stage. And by then, there’s nothing that is going to be effective to cure the condition, and it will rapidly progress.
The bottom line is that mesothelioma is hard to diagnose, Dr. Harbut stated in a recent interview with the Mesothelioma Applied® Research Foundation. “The best we do for diagnosis in this area is not good enough.”
Dr. Harbut then worked with a company in England that specialized in creating breathalyzer tests for cancer. In their solution, a plastic sealable mask is placed on patients who then breathe in and out for about a minute. The mask has a chamber that collects the breath, and captures the VOCs that are being produced by the patient. The mask is then sent to the lab where the VOCs are analyzed from the data processing device inside the mask, and the England company then sends back a full report of what was found.
It’s possible that some of those VOCs are found in every single patient who has mesothelioma. If so, that’s where rigorous scientific analysis of the results of hundreds of patients will produce a pattern that could help doctors identify those who have mesothelioma in the beginning stages.
The breathalyzer test for mesothelioma first needs to prove its efficacy and is in the beginning phases of that process. However, an association/union of insulators has already provided the initial funding, as its members have a high incidence of mesothelioma. They want to see progress made in the detection of the disease.
There are already breath markers that have been identified for pancreatic cancer and pulmonary fibrosis, so Dr. Harbut is hopeful that positive developments will be discovered soon. His goal right now is to find the 300+ patients with a diagnosis of mesothelioma and get them tested. The study only involves a blood test and the one-minute breath ‘biopsy’ once, and it’s starting in Michigan. Looking to the future, Dr. Harbut envisions a breathalyzer device testing for mesothelioma in every hospital and clinic, which can potentially change the course of treatment and offer a better life for everyone with the disease.