Disease breath-testing brings early detection
Media Release April 23 2008
School trial of disease breath-testing brings early detection closer
A successful trial at two Aranui schools of a Christchurch-designed smart instrument that breath-tests for chronic diseases has brought early detection of asthma and diabetes in at-risk children closer.
The mobile breath-testing device, Voice200, has been developed by Christchurch hi-tech company Syft Technologies, whose research programme into breath-based disease diagnosis has been supported by investment of $4.8 million from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology over the past four years.
The Voice200 instrument was installed in a mobile clinic owned by the Aranui Community Trust. A total of 230 children, aged between five and 12, were tested over three days. Each child blew into the machine for two 30 second periods while watching a piece of computer animation that guided them on how fast and deep to blow.
Syft Technologies Medical Strategy Director Dr Jenny Scotter says the results were impressive on a number of fronts.
“The technology worked without a hitch and the throughput rate was comparable to that achieved by other routine screening such as blood tests. But one of the best things was that the kids actually enjoyed using it. I know we could go back there tomorrow and they would queue up to take part in the programme.”
Sue Pauwels, a Senior Business Manager in Christchurch with the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, says the trial was an exciting development from a very promising research investment.
“It is excellent to see the results of research being applied to primary level healthcare for early detection of medical conditions that are a significant healthcare cost for New Zealand,” she says.
Syft Technologies unveiled its new-generation Voice200. The device can instantly detect several biomarkers, or volatile organic compounds, that may indicate the presence of certain diseases. The new instrument is user friendly and small enough to install in vehicles, allowing it to be taken into communities with high health needs.
Dr Scotter says the machine was trialled at two primary schools in the Christchurch suburb of Aranui late last year after Syft formed a partnership with the Aranui Community Trust. “The technology itself has been used at Christchurch Hospital for some time and has proven itself in a wide variety of research projects and through clinical trials. But getting it out of a hospital setting and into the community was a critical step in the process of making the technology widely available.
“We needed to test the machine’s efficiency and robustness and also make sure it wasn’t intimidating for patients,” says Dr Scotter.
Syft worked with the trust for 18 months before the trial took place.
“It was a real challenge to bridge the gap between very high-tech testing equipment on one hand, and a population of people with high health needs but low familiarity with sophisticated medical machines. The trust was an ideal partner for us – it is very professional and is known and trusted in the Aranui community.”
Syft explained the technology to community trust health workers, trained them how to use it and encouraged them to act as ambassadors for the programme.
While the data has been fully analysed and the researchers now know what to expect from breath testing children in a school setting, Dr Scotter says it is too early to draw conclusions about diagnosing disease from the trial.
“We were focused on the performance of the technology in the field and other things like training and how best to work with communities on this kind of project,” she says, “But the instrument certainly proved its potential as a tool for early identification of conditions that respond well to intervention if detected early in life.”
Syft’s experience with conducting high-tech health research in a community setting is being documented in a paper to be published shortly in an international scientific journal. Other papers on scientific and technical outcomes resulting from the trial will also be published this year.
“It’s a powerful testimonial for the company as there are a range of potential applications for the technology that rely on portability and mobility of the instrument. The technology proved itself in these conditions,” says Dr Scotter.
A range of other research carried out by Syft during its Foundation-supported project is also delivering positive results. They include its application to diagnosing bloodstream infections and determining the optimal length of time patients with kidney disease should receive dialysis.
Another promising area of research relates to using breath testing to determine whether kidney transplant patients are experiencing organ rejection or drug reactions.
Syft Technologies was formed out of the University of Canterbury in 2002 to commercialise developments in Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry (or SIFT-MS) discovered by the Chemistry department at the University of Canterbury.