Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

A new breath test that can diagnose lung cancer presented at RCSI Research Day 2018

07 March 2018

RCSI scientists conducting research into lung cancer have discovered a potential new way to diagnose the disease in a patient's breath. This is the first time that a 'liquid biopsy' has been found to consistently and reliably detect a particular type of lung cancer from a patient's breath. Dr Robert Smyth, a Respiratory Specialist Registrar and MD student at the Department of Molecular Medicine, RCSI, is presenting the research at RCSI Research Day 2018 which takes place today.

Lung cancer is now seen as a very diverse disease. Some tumours show specific signature genetic changes (mutations) that can be treated with recently developed targeted therapies, precisely tailored to an individual patient's disease, meaning longer survival and less side effects. To detect these mutations currently requires a tissue biopsy sample, which is invasive and often not enough cancer cells are obtained. Therefore further biopsies and delays in treatment may result. Extensive research is being undertaken to detect these mutations in a patient's blood sample or 'liquid biopsy', but to date blood tests were not found to be reliable. This study investigated the possibility of detecting these changes in the patient's breath (another form of liquid biopsy).

Professor Bryan Hennessy, Professor of Medicine and Consultant Medical Oncologist at RCSI and Beaumont Hospital is the Principal Investigator on the project. He said: "Our research focused on the most common mutation found in advanced lung cancer where a targeted therapy already exists (EGFR mutated cancer). Our research showed that we could consistently detect the presence of a mutation in the patients breath, a finding not described anywhere in the world previously. We also found that our breath test was better than a blood test in the same group of patients.

"These preliminary findings have created considerable interest nationally and internationally. This breath test may prove the missing link in improving the accuracy of the liquid biopsy approach. Plans are underway to formally test the performance of breath vs blood samples in these patients in a multi-national study sponsored by Cancer Trials Ireland."

Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer worldwide with an estimated 1.6 million deaths per year. Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and prostate cancer combined, yet receives a fraction of the funding. This study was funded by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

  Bryan Hennessy

Pictured: Professor Bryan Hennessy

RCSI is ranked among the top 250 (top 2%) of universities worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2018) and its research is ranked first in Ireland for citations. It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide. RCSI is a signatory of the Athena SWAN Charter.