A breath test that could detect lung cancer is to undergo clinical trials in British hospitals.

A spin-off firm from Cambridge University, Owlstone, has developed the Lung Cancer Indicator Detection (LuCID) device to detect chemical traces in breath which indicate a patient may have cancer.

Billy Boyle, co-founder of the firm, told Sky News in the UK a handheld device could be made available to GPs within two years.

He said he began to look at medical applications of the company's technology, originally intended to detect explosives, when his wife Kate Gross was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago before she died at 36 on Christmas Day.

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"The human body makes chemicals, a lot of them are just normal, everyday chemicals, but with cancer and other diseases the cells go a bit wrong and start to make chemicals differently," Mr Boyle told the broadcaster.

"So by programming the chips in software to look for these different characteristic signatures and chemical markers you can program it to look for a range of different diseases.

"We already have the microchip, we're working on small handheld devices in (a) GP's office. It's important to get the clinical evidence first but we think we can have systems available, proven, within the next two years.

"And our goal is to save the NHS (National Health Service) £163,245 million (A$336,324million) - but more importantly to save 10,000 lives."

Mr Boyle added he hoped the technology would lead to earlier detection of lung cancer, which kills more than 35,000 annually in the UK and has a low survival rate because diagnosis is often at the terminal stage.

The firm is to run trials at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester and one other. A desktop version of the "breathalyser" already exists and will be used in the clinical trials.

Last year researchers, including a team from the University of Liverpool, discovered subtle genetic changes in vapour given off by cells that suggested a diagnostic breath test for lung cancer was theoretically possible.

- PAA

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