Using breath to detect lung cancer

Seed grants—or pilot projects—offer one way for an adventurous research idea to get a start

At Emory, one such pilot project is allowing researchers to explore the use of breath for early detection of lung cancer. The project is made possible through part of a $4.7 million gift from Sarah and James Kennedy that set aside support for seed grants, and it was one of five $50,000 awards from the Kennedy Seed Grant program in 2010.

Collaborating with Emory breast cancer surgeon Sheryl Gabram and colleagues from Georgia Tech, Emory thoracic oncologist Suresh Ramalingam and postdoctoral fellow Geetha Vallabhaneni are collecting samples from patients with and without lung cancer. During testing, a patient breathes into a device that separates and detects volatile organic compounds. The presence of cancer cells, which often have altered metabolism, may be detectable in the pattern of organic compounds in the breath.

“Right now, we use CT scanning to decide whether a patient with suspected lung cancer should undergo a biopsy,” Ramalingam says. “Having additional information to bring to that decision would be a significant improvement, and the lung is an ideal place to start.”—Quinn Eastman

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