Ancon Medical has developed a revolutionary technology called Nanoparticle Biomarker Tagging that gives medical professionals the capability to detect deadly diseases in a patient’s breath.
How does NBT work?
Each exhaled breath contains a mixture of molecules that can be produced by bodily fluid or emitted by bacteria. Diseases will produce a specific mixture of these molecules, which act as so-called “biomarkers” that alert medical professionals to the presence of the disease. These biomarkers are the signature of a disease and discovering them can give doctors the ability to make an early diagnosis and begin potentially life-saving treatment.
Finding these biomarkers can be a challenge, as nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other abundant molecules can make it difficult to detect biomarker molecules, which occur in much smaller quantities.
Researchers have identified a number of biomarkers for various diseases, including lung cancer and tuberculosis. The reliability of breath detection for lung cancer was proven in tests against chest CT scans, paving the way for further use of breath tests for clinical use.
Why is NBT special?
NBT offers unprecedented sensitivity for biomarker detection. For lung cancer, NBT can detect the presence of the biomarker molecule with concentrations of a billion times less than other air molecules. NBT is far more effective at detecting trace molecules than other current technology. For example, NBT is a million times more sensitive than gas chromatography mass spectrometry, an expensive technology that requires a laboratory setting.
Unlike gas chromatography mass spectrometry, NBT is its own portable laboratory, consisting of a desktop enclosure that examines the biomarkers on a molecular level through several stages, providing an unprecedented detection sensitivity. NBT achieves this sensitivity by physically amplifying the biomarker molecule so that it can be easily detected with a laser counter. NBT can amplify a biomarker by nearly one billion times its mass.
NBT allows for a single ion, as well as a single molecule, to be detected and identified. Although the techniques involved are cutting edge, they possess an elegant simplicity which allows the NBT technology to be widely affordable at a fraction of the cost of current technologies.
The powerful sensitivity of NBT technology was demonstrated in the Boulby Underground Laboratory, a unique facility where there are no cosmic rays or other ionizing radiation. In August 2012 the low detection limit of the NBT detector was measured to be one ion in 10,000 cubic centimetres, proving that single ion and single molecule detection is a reality with NBT technology.
NBT can detect butylated hydroxytoluene, the lung cancer biomarker molecule, in exhaled breath in only a few minutes.
NBT technology far exceeds the performance of similar technology, such as the Faraday cup, where the detection concentration is 10,000 ions per second, or Wilson chamber technology, the widely-used nuclear physics technology that can require up to 100,000 ions to produce a detectable signal. Even worse is the mass spectrometer, which suffers low sensitivity due to the air-vacuum interface.
The capabilities of NBT technology is enhanced with commercially available technology such as Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) or Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS). The biomarkers of lung cancer and tuberculosis have been detected with NBT enhanced by FAIMS.
The Technology Strategy Board UK (TSB) and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) has funded NBT technology in order to pioneer its use in medicine, life science and other areas.