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16 January, 2012 - 12:16 By Tony Quested

Owlstone develops disease breathalyser

The Owlstone team

Cambridge based Owlstone Nanotech is closing in on its long-held vision to exploit the medical diagnostics market with a breathalyser that detects disease.

Survival could be on everyone’s lips if the Owlstone disease detector gains the approval its founders believe it deserves.

MedTech was on the radar from Day One for UK based Owlstone, whose founders suspended their Cambridge PhDs to develop a complete chemical detection system on a dime-size chip.

When a human being exhales, their breath contains more than 4,000 distinct chemical compounds.

Many of these compounds serve as sensitive indicators of an individual's overall wellbeing. More specifically, the presence of individual chemicals in a subject’s breath can play a vital role in the non-invasive diagnosis of disease.

For instance, diabetes is a rapidly rising problem in the developed world, with long-term treatment for millions of sufferers placing a growing burden on stretched healthcare resources.

Glucose levels are currently measured by the patient using a painful, inconvenient pin-prick blood test. Owlstone detector technology potentially offers a compact, painless alternative, enabling rapid, non-invasive measurement of acetone levels in exhaled breath that are directly related to blood sugar levels.

The presence of ‘signature’ chemicals also has the potential to aid the detection of a wide range of other conditions, from asthma and allergies to organ failures and certain types of cancer.

The Owlstone detector opens up exciting new possibilities for clinicians to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosing these and other clinical conditions at an early stage when they are more likely to be treatable.

Medical diagnostics has always been one of Owlstone’s longer range target markets; it has already developed a portable, hand held device for military applications.

Business Weekly can reveal that Owlstone has been working with top academic researcher groups who are working with its systems to develop diagnostic applications. Potentially this move could be explosive for the Cambridge Science Park business.

There was always huge potential for Owlstone’s technology across a range of markets but 9/11 and the enduring threat of terrorism nudged the company’s chemical detection solution to the forefront of the homeland security market – principally in the US.

There remain major MedTech and environmental segment opportunities for the young business.

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