Anaxsys is currently conducting research into three different products with grants from the Technology Strategy Board, and has also made useful trade contacts in the US through one of its Future Health Missions to Boston.
‘Companies like us really need this kind of help to take our inventions and ideas to market, and the Technology Strategy Board is doing a huge amount to promote new ideas and innovation throughout the UK. There really is nobody else like them,' said Barbara.
Anaxsys was founded in 2002 by Surrey GP Dr Deryk Williams, who is now the company's Chief Medical Officer.
As a family doctor, he had been particularly interested in child asthma but was aware there was no simple way of confirming a diagnosis. Parents would come to him with stories of their children being awake all night wheezing and unable to breathe normally, but presenting no symptoms the next day in the surgery.
This was the Eureka moment - an unexpected observation that water in exhaled breath comes from the periphery of the lung – not the nose! - Barbara Lead
A paper written at the time by French academics suggested that asthma could be diagnosed by measuring carbon dioxide in breath – a technique called ‘Capnography,' but this is an expensive process, normally only used by anaesthetists in operating theatres and not suited to point-of-care diagnosis.
By now Deryk was working as an industrial medical innovations consultant, and he decided to follow up the French research by trying to find out if there was an inexpensive way of detecting carbon dioxide and exploit the idea in a practical way. He found the answer by accident:
It is at times like this that you wonder why people hadn't thought of it before! Now we've got patents on this, and on the sensor, and on the use of water profiles in breath to comment on the disease - Barbara Lead
‘We started to test this around 2004, using an electrochemical detector. It worked – in that we could get breath profiles off it – but the speed of the response was too slow because the signal depended on a chemical reaction as the carbon dioxide diffused through a thin layer of chemicals,' explained Barbara Lead, Commercial Development Director of Anaxsys.
Accidental discovery in the lab
‘Then one day a technician testing the sensor accidentally left it out in the lab, and the thin film dried out. But the sensor continued to detect something, although it clearly could not have been carbon dioxide.
‘We discovered that the water profiles in breath looked very similar to carbon dioxide profiles in breath – but breath is saturated in water and the response time is much faster,' she added.
‘This was the Eureka moment - an unexpected observation that water in exhaled breath comes from the periphery of the lung – not the nose!
‘It is at times like this that you wonder why people hadn't thought of it before! Now we've got patents on this, and on the sensor, and on the use of water profiles in breath to comment on the disease,' said Barbara.
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