Startups, Diagnostics

Best of INVEST: Breath Diagnostics detects cancer with breath tests

Louisville startup Breath Diagnostics has developed technology to pick up cancer-related compounds that are exhaled in one’s breath.


Sparrow Pharmaceuticals won the therapeutics category as part of this year’s Best of INVEST awards.

It’s possible to detect cancer by smelling the breath. Dogs, for instance, have been trained to do so – picking up small quantities of compounds emitted by cancers that are excreted when someone with cancer exhales.

Louisville startup Breath Diagnostics has developed technology to pick up cancer-related compounds that are exhaled in one’s breath.

Patients are tasked with breathing a liter of air into a plastic bag – which, in turn, is hooked up to a vacuum pump. It captures these ketones and aldehydes with an amino-oxy compound with a microchip, then analyzed over the course of just a couple hours in a mass spectrometer. It’s still in pursuit of approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the test, though its technology is ready for commercialization, says CEO Rick Rummel.

Rummel says the startup offers hospitals an alternative to a standard cancer confirmatory test – the CT scan. It’s setting up a business model to use breath-based diagnostics as a regular way to screen high risk patients for cancer. It’s looking for premarket approval for a screening test.

Another application Breath Diagnostics is pursuing is cancer monitoring – testing the cancer compound levels in patients before and after surgery. Doctors could determine whether cancer is regrowing based on the levels picked up by the breath test.

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“It’s an easy and inexpensive way to monitor the patient,” Rummel said.

Breath Diagnostics is by no means unique in its approach to cancer testing – several companies and researchers are developing breathalyzers to pick up on the disease. However, the Louisville startup is one of the furthest along in development, according to Rummel – as many others haven’t progressed much further past the bench.

Rummel says he’s had “significant conversations with one of the major lab companies in the nation” in order to help commercialize the test among doctors and hospital systems.

Breath Diagnostics has propelled itself largely through grant funding, and is ready to begin raising equity funding now to move its commercialization at a faster pace.

“Our aim is to seek seed or angel funding now,” Rummel said.

[Image from flickr user Judean Peoples Front]