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Could a breathalyser detect early appendicitis?

A new project to develop a non-invasive diagnostic test for appendicitis in children is being supported by the HTC.

The research will investigate whether changes in certain gasses found in children’s breath – called volatile organic compounds or VOCs – can be used as reliable markers for the condition.

Although appendicitis is common and easily treated if spotted in time, children often present with unusual symptoms, making diagnosis difficult. The condition also progresses more quickly in younger people, increasing the risk of perforation, which can result in emergency surgery and a longer stay in hospital.

“A reliable test that provides immediate results would have a real impact for patients, their families and for clinical teams” says Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, Jonathan Sutcliffe, who will lead the research. “Children often find it hard to describe their symptoms clearly and there is currently no reliable test. A fast, non-invasive test would ensure patients with the condition are taken to theatre sooner which makes treatment safer and more effective. Patients without appendicitis could safely be allowed home which is better for them and also means the bed could be used for someone else.”

Mr Sutcliffe, will work with Roboscientific, a leading manufacturer of VOC analysers, to see if existing technology used commercially to diagnose diseases in animals can be adapted for appendicitis and specifically for use with children.

The proof of concept study, funded jointly through the HTC and Roboscientific, will look at whether analysers can collect sufficient breath from children to identify VOCs at a high enough density to provide a reliable diagnosis.

Called ‘Finding Evidence to Treat Or Reassure in Appendicitis (FETOR)’, the study will test VOC analysers with children presenting with suspected appendicitis at Leeds General Infirmary over the next six months. If shown to be effective, the technology can then be developed for full clinical trials.

Funding for the study has come through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Impact Acceleration Award, made to the University of Leeds and administered by the HTC for proof of concept studies.