GOP Budget Cuts Mean Professor’s Cancer-Detecting Breathalyzer Can’t Get Funding


Engineering Professor Patrick McCann is only steps away from fully developing a kind of breathalyzer that can actually detect whether or not a person has cancer. The University Of Oklahoma Stephenson Cancer Center just received a $20 million grant but because Professor McCann isn’t a medical researcher he isn’t eligible for any of the cash to help fund this genius idea.

“It was really the dogs that cinched the deal,” Prof. McCann told Biophotonics about the concept. He saw several reports about dogs who could sniff out cancer and it piqued his curiosity. He started looking through studies showing actual evidence that verified the possibilities. A study in the March 2006 issue of Integrative Cancer Therapies outlined examples of dogs who were able to detect both breast and lung cancer when the infected exhaled. Their success rate was 88 percent accuracy for breast cancer and 97 percent accuracy for lung cancer.

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“The dogs are already doing it,” McCann said. “They’re just not telling us what they’re smelling.”

Gas phase cancer biomarkers do actually have a scent that can be detected and McCann knew he could build a sensor to detect it. With students helping, the team combined nanotechnology with low-heat mid-IR lasers to create the device that has had some success. “You can actually use a laser to measure chemical species,” McCann explained to the OU Daily. “You shine a laser through the gas sample, and what you do is you tune a laser; and if there’s a molecule that absorbs light, you’ll see a reduction in the transmitted light intensity. You can actually use that information to measure both the concentration as well as identify the molecule.”

It’s ready to go and he can finalize all of it for the price of just $100,000, but sadly there is no funding for Professor McCann. “I have absolutely no credibility with the National Institutes of Health or any other medical funding agency,” he said. He also thinks that with the economy, lack of funding available and competitiveness he isn’t likely to be considered.

Right now, doctors can detect a tumor that’s around a centimeter in diameter — maybe they could get down to five millimeters. We could measure a tumor that’s a millimeter in diameter. If this works, we could be smarter about understanding cancer… What we need to do is build another spectrometer that’s small enough and easy to use and get it into the hands of medical researchers and have them test it. But developing the final product takes money. Basically, you would need between $50 (thousand) and $100,000.

University President David Boren doesn’t have it to spare. The state government has cut so much funding and doled out tax cuts, that the University of Oklahoma is operating at about $100 million less than 2008 levels in a 2015 world. This is the result of mismanaged government from a governor who is following the Sam Brownback model for success. A more than $600 million – $1.2 billion budget shortfall was announced in September, and Fallin’s tax cuts are just about to take hold in January.

How can Oklahoma be a place for inventors, education, and research when the universities can’t even fund projects that could help save lives? Pathetic.

Feature image via Wikimedia commons.

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