A nasal swab could be the basis of a future lung cancer diagnostic test.

Developed by Veracyte – a San Francisco-based genomic diagnostics company – the non-invasive Percepta Bronchial Genomic Classifier searches for groups of genetic mutations caused by smoking in cell samples collected by bronchoscopy.

Previously, the company had established that “fields of injury” (i.e. groups of genomic alterations caused by smoking) could be used as a biomarker to distinguish between ever-smokers with lung cancer and those with benign lung disease.

Now, the company has released even further data, confirming their findings and establishing the safety and accuracy of the Percepta nasal swab.

In a study carried out at Boston University, nasal samples of epithelial cells were taken from 505 current and former smokers being investigated for pulmonary lesions in two prospective clinical studies called AEGIS-1 and AEGIS-2.

The researchers found that, after one year of follow-up, different sets of genes were expressed in the nasal epithelium of AEGIS-1 patients diagnosed with lung cancer compared to those with benign disease.

In addition, they found that field of injury alterations were present in paired samples of cells from both the lower and upper airways.

Overall, Percepta combined with bronchoscopy demonstrated a cancer-detection sensitivity of 97% compared to 75% for bronchoscopy alone as well as a high degree of accuracy in identifying those at a low risk of cancer.

“The data published today provide compelling evidence that molecular biomarkers used to determine lung cancer risk in cells from the bronchial airway could provide similar information as cells obtained from a simple nasal swab,” said Avrum Spira, corresponding author on the JNCI paper. “This discovery could offer a method to further reduce the uncertainty, risk and cost associated with the early detection of lung cancer.”

Veracyte’s device joins an ever-growing list of promising tools to detect lung cancer – one of the most notable being the ReCIVA breathalyser test developed by Owlstone Medical. The device measures the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in breath samples.

Veracyte acquired rights to the Percepta device through its 2014 acquisition of Allegro Diagnostics.