Building a Cancer Breathalyzer
When Linda Molfesi’s father died from esophageal cancer in 2011, she wanted to fight back against the deadly disease. So, she and her daughter, Christina Frye, started the Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation. The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity working to raise awareness, encourage early detection and fund research of esophageal cancer.
When they learned that Virginia Mason surgeon Donald Low, MD, FACS, had an innovative idea — a “cancer breathalyzer” — that could potentially detect esophageal cancers earlier, the Salgi Foundation made a generous donation to support this research work.
“Esophageal cancers don’t typically show symptoms until they’re very advanced, which is why only 20 to 30 percent of patients live for five years after diagnosis,” Dr. Low says. “If a breath test could detect esophageal cancer before it spreads, we could cure many patients.”
The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity working to raise awareness, encourage early detection and fund research of esophageal cancer.
The idea for a breath test to detect esophageal cancer started when Piers Boshier, PhD, who did his doctoral thesis on using breath testing to diagnose diseases, joined Dr. Low’s team. Dr. Boshier’s previous research revealed that cancer patients have elevated levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their bodies, which can be detected in the breath.
This led the researchers to the idea of a “cancer breathalyzer.” Dr. Low envisions patients breathing into a bag that captures their breath, then testing for VOCs that may indicate esophageal cancer.
“We’re a small foundation and we don’t have a huge budget. So we look at studies that could impact the most patients and which scientist is most committed,” Linda says. “For us, that’s Dr. Low.”