The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, July 12, 2019

Breath test offers new path for lung disease patients

By The Building Tradesman

SOUTHFIELD - There's a new method being tried to test patients for a lung disease among construction workers - using a device similar to what suspected drunk drivers might put to their lips.

For decades, asking suspected impaired or drunk drivers to blow into a breathalyzer has been a tool for law enforcement officers to test blood alcohol levels. Now, in an attempt to better provide early detection of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related lung disease, the Breath of Life Foundation and the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers are taking a leadership role by supporting a clinical trial that will be using a relatively new and unique technology to search for a biomarker that may be useful in diagnosing this cancer at an early stage, and without needles. 

Much the same way as a breathalyzer works, a 10-minute collection of exhaled breath from patients with a known and provable asbestos exposure and no mesothelioma diagnosis will be compared with a breath sample collected in the same way from people with a diagnosis of mesothelioma.  

"This is a very big deal," said Dr. Michael Harbut, who leads a team of post-doctorate fellows at Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield researching, diagnosing and treating victims of occupational asbestos-related diseases. "We are looking for a test that can offer an earlier diagnosis, and I cannot over-emphasize the enormous importance of an early diagnosis in improving treatment options for mesothelioma patients. It helps patients, it helps doctors, it helps the families. Any delay in diagnosis can shorten the period of time you have to treat the disease."

Owlstone Medical of Cambridge, England developed this technology, which analyzes breath for more than a thousand volatile organic compounds naturally produced by the body in healthy and unhealthy states.  The group is partnering in the trial with the Heat and Frost Insulators, and the Tissue Bank Asbestos Research Charitable Trust will be funding the project.

According to Legal Scoops, In the first phase of the trial, researchers will be looking to discover the volatile organic compounds in the breath of patients with malignant mesothelioma.

The second phase will consist of a blind study that will validate the specificity, sensitivity, and positive and negative predictive values of the specific volatile organic compound biomarkers identified in the first phase.

Owlstone’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler will be used to collect samples. Those samples will be analyzed by the company’s Breath Biopsy laboratory, with the ultimate goal of detecting malignant mesothelioma as early as possible, allowing for a more effective treatment and a longer life for patients.

This breath method is also currently being used in other clinical trials looking for biomarkers associated with lung cancer and colon cancer. 

Harbut said finding people with mesothelioma is difficult, because it is so rare and difficult to diagnose, he said. "We're available for any questions from building trades workers concerning this study or technology, and would particularly welcome questions from anyone with mesothelioma interested in participating in this clinical trial," Harbut said. Building trades workers or retirees who have symptoms of an asbestos-related disease, such as shortness of breath, other breathing issues, or back pain, are invited to call Cynthia Noraian, RN in Dr. Harbut's office at (248) 350-2722 or (248) 849-3170. 

The Breath of Life Foundation has raised more than a half million dollars to fund research for the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.

Harbut met with Heat and Frost Insulators union representatives on June 17 at Providence Hospital to accept a $60,000 contribution made possible by Breath of Life Foundation fundraisers to help fund  research. The Breath of Life Foundation is a decade-old collaborative effort of the Central States Insulation Association, the Central States Conference of the International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Union, and others that serve the insulation industry in Michigan and five other states. 

"These breath tests are potentially a new method for early detection of mesothelioma, and with so many of our members and others in the building trades being exposed to asbestos over the years, we're excited about how the clinical trial could help them," said Heat and Frost Insulators International Union General Secretary-Treasurer Greg Revard, a Local 47 member.