Breath-based biomarkers for mesothelioma may prove encouraging to detect asbestos cancer early and could save lives. Since researchers are studying the results, they don't recommend the widespread usage of the test.
Malignant pleural mesothelioma- MPM is life-threatening cancer. MPM is mainly caused by inhalation or indigestion of small asbestos fibers excessively. The prolonged latency period of asbestos-related diseases makes its timely diagnosis extremely difficult. Researchers from all around the world are trying to find fast and easy ways to diagnose and treat this cancer.
The use of breath biopsy for mesothelioma detection is one such proposed method. In this procedure, the presence, and quantity of volatile organic compounds- VOCs is checked in the patient's exhaled breath. VOCs can help doctors to identify cancer.
In a press release on June 5th, 2019, Owlstone Medical, leading international diagnostic company and UK's Breath Biopsy inventor, announced its partnership with the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers- IAHFIAW.
In this statement, researchers announced a future high tech project studying the breath biomarkers. This project is part of this joint venture and will identify and test the efficacy of breath-based biomarkers to detect malignant mesothelioma at the early stages.
Need for an Effective Diagnostic Test for Mesothelioma Cancer at Early Stages
One of the significant problems for treating mesothelioma is that it is difficult to diagnose at the early stages. The common symptoms for malignant pleural mesothelioma include night sweats, chest tightness, fatigue, shortening of breath, and dry cough.
And unfortunately, these symptoms mimic the symptoms of less dangerous and easy to cure diseases. Later, when the tumor has spread fully, it can only be diagnosed using a combination of different diagnostic techniques such as CT scans, blood tests, PET scans, and tissue biopsy.
The average survival time for MPM patients ranges from 9 to 18 months after a cancer diagnosis. On top of that, below 25% of these diagnosed patients are prescribed surgical treatment.
Belgian researchers published research in 2017 that highlighted the potential in breath based biopsy to diagnose MPM in the early days. The researchers wrote that,
"We believe a breathomics-based biomarker approach should be further explored to improve the follow-up and management of asbestos-exposed individuals."
In the press release, Michael R. Harbut, Clinical Professor of Internal Medicine at the Wayne State University School of Medicine and Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and medical advisor to the IAHFIAW (International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers) stated:
“The diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma is typically very late in the course of the disease when surgery is not viable owing to its proliferation, and the cancer is less responsive to chemotherapy. To change this, reliable diagnostic tests that enable the earlier detection of malignant mesothelioma in at-risk populations are badly needed.”
To increase the survival time of mesothelioma patients, early detection of this cancer is critical. In this regard, this study can help solve this problem.
Timeline and Study Design of the Research Project
The research directors approved the first phase of the project on 24th April. In this part, the researchers will identify the volatile organic compounds- VOCs in the breath of previously diagnosed malignant mesothelioma patients.
In the second part, the researchers will test the sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive values of the previously selected (from phase I) VOCs biomarkers.
The CEO and co-founder at Owlstone Medical Billy Boyle stated regarding the importance of breath biopsy:
“Malignant mesothelioma is a powerful example of an unaddressed medical need where Breath Biopsy has the potential to make a substantial difference. Through this partnership, we are looking not only to advance the early diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma but also to demonstrate that breath-based screening has the potential to have a substantial impact on a wide range of environment-driven disease.”
Future Prospects of this Detection Technique
Researchers at the University of Bari, Italy have analyzed all the studies on the breath biomarkers since the 2000s. In this review, published on June 14th, 2019, the researchers have concluded that none of these experimental studies prove this technique to be safe and efficient to use on mesothelioma patients.
"Breathomics-based biomarker approach should be further explored to confirm and validate preliminary findings and to evaluate its potential role in monitoring the therapeutic response."
Hopefully, the currently undergoing study at Owlstone Medical reveals beneficial and applicable aspects of the breath biopsy and mesothelioma patients can benefit from this technique.