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Moncton tech firm teams up with UNB to work on new way to detect lung cancer

Click to play video: 'Moncton company teams up with UNB for new technology to detect lung cancer'
Moncton company teams up with UNB for new technology to detect lung cancer
WATCH: A Moncton based company is working with the University of New Brunswick to develop a breath screener that it says can detect lung cancer in patients. Shelley Steeves reports – Mar 29, 2021

A Moncton-based company is working with the University of New Brunswick on a new way to detect lung cancer and your breath may be all that’s needed.

Picomole, Inc., a medical technology company in Moncton, is developing a breath-testing device aimed at screening patients for lung cancer.

UNB biomedical engineering masters student Robyn Larracy is working on the research project, which she said is dear to her heart.

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“Both of my dad’s parents, my grandparents, died from lung cancer so having something like this that could catch it when it is still treatable would be incredible,” said Larracy.

Picomole released a statement on March 23 that it had entered into a partnership with the University of New Brunswick with funding from Mitacs and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation to “apply machine learning to raw spectral data generated by the Picomole breath analytics technology, in order to identify features found in the breath that is indicative of the presence of lung cancer.”

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Larracy is working to develop machine learning algorithms that look for patterns in the breath samples that indicate the presence of lung cancer.

Much like a breathalyzer, a person simply blows into the mouthpiece, a process that can last about 15 seconds.

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Are you asking the right questions when it comes to lung cancer?

“We are looking for what we call biomarkers in the breath, so lung cancer biomarkers,” Larracy said.

The machine can detect lung cancer with an 85 per cent accuracy rate and Larracy is working with the company to help improve the device’s accuracy.

According to Larracy, lung cancer emits metabolites into the bloodstream and the lungs and when exhaled, those volatile organic compounds can be trapped with the breath sampler.

“The sample is captured into a little cylinder that is shipped to a lab to be analyzed,” said Jean Nadeau, the chairman of Picomole Inc.

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The company is set to resume clinical trials at hospitals in Moncton and Saint John after the trials were shut down last year amid the pandemic, said Nadeau.

Similar trials will soon begin at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, he said.

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Nadeau said the goal is to make lung cancer screening more accessible and to provide early detection.

“The first and foremost is to save lives because the sooner you detect diseases, the better usually is the treatment and the results of the outcomes of the treatments,” he said.

The breath screener, he says, does not replace diagnostic testing but he said the units can be used to help reduce the need for health authorities to use expensive CT scans in screening for lung cancer. He also said the devices are small and portable enough to be used in pharmacies and in doctors’ offices at a cost of about $375 per sample.

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The units are about two years away from potentially becoming the latest device in the battle against lung cancer.

“Had this been around 20 years ago then maybe my grandparents wouldn’t have died early,” said Larracy.

 

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