Cancer that is diagnosed at an early stage is more likely to be treated successfully. Around 70% of lung cancer patients will survive for a year if diagnosed at the earliest stage, compared to 14% for people diagnosed at the most advanced. The most common screening method for lung cancer is a CT scan, which have many disadvantages. They are expensive, giving access to only a fraction of patients at risk, and cannot detect lung cancer until it has progressed to the point where it is difficult to treat successfully. In addition, radiation from CT scan can be dangerous, even making people more susceptible to cancer.
The Boston-based startup Astraeus Technologies is developing an inexpensive, portable and accurate breath analysis device for lung cancer screening. Individuals with lung cancer breathe out a particular gas, and the device, based on a technology called CARD (Chemically Actuated Resonant Device), is customized to activate when exposed to that specific gas. Accompanying the device, called L-CARD, the startup also aim to develop a smartphone app that allow physicians to easily interpret the results within seconds.
It is anticipated that the cost of producing the L-CARD is minimal and the test itself is harmless, meaning significantly reducing screening barriers. More at-risk patient will have the opportunity to undergo screening and will not be put at further risk by doing so. With the minimal cost of the test, it could also be a solution for low-resource settings where access to lung cancer diagnostics are very limited.
The test could be performed in the primary care provider’s office during a routine checkup, and the instant results could significantly reduce anxiety associated with waiting times for results. Although different scans and tests are needed after the L-CARD to get further knowledge about the cancer, and set up a treatment strategy, the patient get a definitive answer if they have cancer or not. Most importantly, the innovative diagnostic test has the potential of detecting early stage lung cancer, significantly improving health outcomes and survival rates.
Astraeus Technologies is working on getting FDA approval to start clinical trials for the test, and the team is also looking to translate the technology to other cancers and diseases. Patients with breast, skin, colon and other cancers also emit a specific type of gas that could be easily detected. However, although having multiple tests for different cancers would make sense commercially, developing an all-in-one approach would be much more intuitive and patient-friendly.
The startup was founded in November 2015 by Joseph Azzarelli, a PhD student in the lab of Professor Tim Swager in the Chemistry Department at MIT, and Alex Blair, Jay Kumar and Fraham Lieberman from Harvard Medical School. Astraeus Technologies has won numerous prizes since it was founded a few months back, including the first prize and audience choice prize at the MIT $100K Accelerate, as well as the audience choice prize at the MIT Sloan Healthcare and BioinnovationsConference. They are also a semi-finalist at OneStart, the world’s largest accelerator for startups seeking to dramatically improve human health.