Public Health

Deton is Developing “Aerosol Biopsy” to Detect Lung Diseases

Biopsies and bronchoscopies are the gold standard for diagnosing lung diseases, including pneumonia and cancer. However, these procedures are difficult to provide, requiring general anesthesia and an operating room. Deton hopes to simplify the process.

The Pasadena-based company takes advantage of the lung’s natural reaction to bacteria or particles — coughing it out. Rather than invasively sampling lung tissue within the lungs, Deton’s patented technology samples the particles ejected from the lungs. The expelled cough sample is then read by a point-of-care analyzer or sent to a lab.

“When a person coughs, it’s the body’s natural way of expelling any extra bacteria in the lungs,” Co-Founder and COO Ramzi Nasr points out. “Any DNA can come out… so it makes sense to use this mechanism and leverage that when we’re trying to access the lung non-invasively.”

Patrick Sislian

Patrick Sislian, Co-Founder and CEO, says that the technology has two key advantages over traditional bronchoscopy and biopsy: it’s much quicker and less expensive. For instance, the exact bacterial species causing a case of pneumonia could be identified using a point-of-care test rather than waiting to see a pulmonologist, reducing the time spent on empiric antibiotics that may or may not work for that particular infection. “It takes about 10 minutes to obtain a sample,” Sislian says. As a result, the patient can receive tailored antibiotics within hours rather than days. “You’re saving the patient trouble, and you’re saving the system money.”

Another important use case is lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. If a CT scan shows a suspicious lung nodule, the current protocol is to wait a few months, repeat the CT scan, and obtain a lung biopsy if the mass has enlarged. Deton’s goal is that an aerosol biopsy could be obtained immediately after seeing the first CT scan, either detecting cancerous cells or ruling out lung cancer months earlier than before.

So far, the technology has been tested in patients with cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes recurrent lung infections. In a sample of a hundred patients from the University of California, San Diego, the company’s aerosol biopsy showed 94% sensitivity in detecting Pseudomonas, one of the major bacterial causes of pneumonia in cystic fibrosis.

While more research and fine-tuning will be needed before the aerosol biopsy is used in hospitals, the company aims to commercialize its technology for lung research use within the next two years. “The lungs are very difficult to access without invasive methods,” Nasr points out. “It’s very hard to recruit a healthy control baseline of subjects that are willing to be in a study where [samples] are going to be invasively collected from the lungs.” As such, Deton aims to fill a major need in lung research.

Since idea conception in 2012 and the first commercialization efforts in 2016, the company has moved quickly, raising $1.8 million in government grants and investments and is in the process of raising a $2 million seed round.

Sislian acknowledges the skepticism that some might have about the aerosol biopsies. “The key to overcoming [that] is data,” he says. “So we want to build our data, and we’re very conscious about having data to back us up every step of the way.” With more data in hand, Deton hopes to replace traditional lung biopsies and bronchoscopies with something much more efficient, less expensive, and less invasive.


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