An electronic ‘nose’ that sniffs out chemicals in breath may help spot early signs of oesophageal cancer, which can be linked to acid reflux.
The breathalyser-type device uses sensors to identify patterns of compounds found in breath that are unique to Barrett’s oesophagus, a ‘pre’ condition to the cancer.
Improving diagnosis of oesophageal (or gullet) cancer could help save lives; currently around 60 per cent of patients in the UK are diagnosed at a late stage, when it is harder to treat.
Having long-term, severe acid reflux is one of the main risk factors, as over time, the stomach acid causes cell changes in the gullet, known as Barrett’s oesophagus.
The breathalyser-type device uses sensors to identify patterns of compounds found in breath that are unique to Barrett’s oesophagus, a ‘pre’ condition to the cancer. A stock image is seen above
According to Cancer Research UK, up to 13 per cent of people with Barrett’s oesophagus will develop oesophageal cancer.
Barrett’s is usually diagnosed with an endoscope, a long, thin flexible tube with a camera on the end — but this can be an uncomfortable procedure for patients, and expensive, making it unsuitable as a screening tool. The new breath test could provide a non-invasive alternative.
There are 3,000 volatile organic compounds (or VOCs) in the air we exhale; some are the result of inflammation, others are produced by metabolic processes in the body, such as the breaking down of glucose.
The VOCs are released into the blood and pass into the airway once the blood reaches the lungs, when they are then exhaled from the body. Different diseases have different patterns of VOCs and researchers have shown that the device can detect these patterns.
To carry out the test, the patient breathes into a tube attached to the device and sensors spot specific patterns of VOCs. Results are available within minutes.
Having long-term, severe acid reflux is one of the main risk factors, as over time, the stomach acid causes cell changes in the gullet, known as Barrett’s oesophagus
In a study at Radboud University in The Netherlands, reported in the journal Gut last year, 400 people breathed into the device for five minutes; some had been diagnosed with Barrett’s, others acid reflux, or had a healthy oesophagus. Results showed the VOC content was different in the three groups, and the device was able to detect Barrett’s nine times out of ten.
It could also accurately spot those without the condition.
A trial of the device is now under way at the university with nearly 500 patients, who will have the breath test and then an endoscopy to confirm the test’s accuracy.
Other research has shown the device can detect a wide range of conditions.
A study presented at the European Respiratory Society Congress in Madrid last year showed that it was 96 per cent accurate at detecting lung cancer from VOCs.
The technology has also been used to identify people with colon cancer, tuberculosis, prostate cancer, bladder cancer, regional pain syndrome, stomach cancer and epilepsy.
Jaydip Ray, a professor of otology and neurotology from the University of Sheffield and clinical director for ear, nose and throat at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, said, ‘VOCs offer a great promise as non-invasive biomarkers for [many cancers’] early detection, screening and surveillance.
‘The non-invasive nature of the test is more patient friendly, uses fewer resources and might be easy to deploy in future.’
Aspirin may lower the risk of Barrett’s oesophagus, a condition linked to gullet cancer. A study, published in the journal Clinics in Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology, based on data from around 33,000 people, found non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which include aspirin, reduce the likelihood of developing the condition by 16 per cent. One theory is aspirin blocks COX-2, an enzyme responsible for inflammation and pain.
Hi-tech watch to check symptoms of Parkinson’s
An app used on a smartwatch could track Parkinson’s disease symptoms — and potentially help improve tailoring medication to patients’ needs.
The neurological condition is characterised by shaking, muscle stiffness, insomnia and depression.
Now engineers from Apple, with researchers from across the U.S., have developed an app that uses smartwatch sensors to track tremors.
Their latest study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, showed that in 225 Parkinson’s patients, the smartwatches picked up some of the symptoms missed by clinicians. The suggestion is the app could ensure medication doses are in line with the symptoms.
‘Botox’ may protect heart after surgery
‘Botox’ may prevent a common complication of heart surgery.
Injections of botulinum toxin are being tested as a treatment for post-operative atrial fibrillation (AF), where the heart beats rapidly and irregularly, which is experienced by up to 40 per cent of patients after surgery — it’s thought as a result of inflammation.
Although the AF is temporary, it can result in heart failure or stroke.
In an international trial at centres that include Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, heart surgery patients will have jabs of botulinum toxin around their hearts.
It’s thought the compound, which blocks signals passing between nerves and muscles, can help by interrupting abnormal nerve signals to the heart that cause it to misfire.
‘Botox’ may prevent a common complication of heart surgery. Injections of botulinum toxin are being tested as a treatment for post-operative atrial fibrillation (AF)
Green tea pill for easing the menopausal flushes
Daily tablets containing broccoli and green tea can help women with menopausal symptoms.
That’s the finding of a new study in the Journal of Nursing and Women’s Health involving Japanese women, 80 per cent of whom reported that taking two capsules a day of the whole food supplement — which also contains pomegranate and turmeric — eased their arthritis, low moods and hot flushes.
It’s thought the benefits may be down to polyphenols — naturally occurring chemicals that are also thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect on inflamed joints.
Surgical procedures have been blamed for spreading Covid, but research from the Association of Anaesthetists analysing UK studies shows operating theatre staff are less likely to catch it than other healthcare workers. This may be because they had use of better personal protective equipment (PPE).
Could statins also treat depression?
Statins, which are commonly prescribed for lowering cholesterol, are now being tested as a treatment for depression.
Previous research suggests that people taking statins have a reduced risk of the condition.
In a preliminary study with 50 volunteers without depression, researchers from the University of Oxford are now looking at this, analysing the impact of statins on emotion using tests that analyse different expressions.
They will also check the volunteers’ levels of the C-reactive protein, which is a marker for inflammation, and which is increasingly associated with depression, recent research suggests.
Regularly moving (including doing housework) is key to health, studies show. This week: Burpees while doing the laundry.
Break up the laundry by doing a burpee between folding. Burpees are a great all-over exercise that will raise your heart rate and build strength in the legs, abs, chest and arms, says Chatty Dobson, founder of the FLEX Chelsea personal training studio.
‘Stand with feet shoulder width apart, your weight in your heels and arms at your sides. Push your hips back, bend your knees and lower your body into a squat. Place your hands on the floor directly in front of you and just inside your feet.
‘Shift your weight into your hands, jumping your feet back. Your body should be in a straight line from head to heels, and don’t let your back sag or butt stick up in the air. Jump your feet back so they land just outside your hands, and reach your arms over your head to explosively jump into the air. That’s one rep.’
Then fold or iron, and repeat until the load is complete. Or for another option, do two jumping jacks in between, instead — throwing your arms and legs out wide as you jump, before jumping back to the starting position with feet together and arms by your side.
Break up the laundry by doing a burpee between folding. Burpees are a great all-over exercise that will raise your heart rate and build strength in the legs, abs, chest and arms, says Chatty Dobson, founder of the FLEX Chelsea personal training studio
The Turmeric Co. shots each contain 35g of fresh raw turmeric, a source of antioxidants, magnesium and vitamins C and B6
The Turmeric Co. shots each contain 35g of fresh raw turmeric, a source of antioxidants, magnesium and vitamins C and B6.
Available in a range of flavours.— 60ml, £2.29, planetorganic.com
Ailments caused by wearing a mask and how to treat them. This week: Cracks at corners of mouth
Wearing a mask can trigger angular stomatitis — inflammation of one or both corners of the mouth.
The cracks happen because masks create warmth and humidity — while sweat and saliva can also irritate the skin.
‘These are perfect conditions for bacteria to flourish and grow’ says Dr Mark Hudson-Peacock, a consultant dermatologist at Stratum Dermatology Clinics in Canterbury.
What to do: ‘Try putting a folded tissue inside the mask — as if it were an extra layer — each time you wear one,’ suggests Dr Hudson-Peacock.
‘This will protect the skin from sweat. Also apply a small amount of petroleum jelly or a coconut oil-based product to the corners of your mouth, which can form a barrier from saliva.
And moisturise the surrounding skin at night. If the condition does not settle or becomes infected, see your GP, as you may have a local fungal infection.’
Wearing a mask can trigger angular stomatitis — inflammation of one or both corners of the mouth