He was, understandably, heartbroken after cancer robbed him of his ‘inspirational’ wife and mother of his twin sons, Kate Gross, on Christmas Day 2014. 

But instead of withering away in grief, Cambridge University engineering graduate Billy Boyle poured his entire heart into saving thousands from the disease. 

The widower co-founded a firm in hope of revolutionising cancer diagnosis. And now they have developed a breathalyser test that may do just that.

A major medical trial of the firm’s pioneering device – involving 1,500 patients over two years – is now being launched. 

Doctors say it could save thousands of lives each year and may eventually replace current screening programmes within a decade.  

Cambridge University engineering graduate Billy Boyle poured his entire heart into saving thousands from the disease following the death of his wife Kate Gross (pictured with her, and their sons Oscar and Isaac)

Cambridge University engineering graduate Billy Boyle poured his entire heart into saving thousands from the disease following the death of his wife Kate Gross (pictured with her, and their sons Oscar and Isaac)

Cambridge University engineering graduate Billy Boyle poured his entire heart into saving thousands from the disease following the death of his wife Kate Gross (pictured with her, and their sons Oscar and Isaac)

In her short life, Mrs Gross, who read English at Oxford University, had a successful career as an adviser to both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. 

She was even awarded an OBE in 2014 – the year she died – for her charity work in Africa, helping governments turn into democracies.

Mrs Gross only discovered she had colon cancer, a disease that kills 16,000 people each year in the UK, in October 2012, following stomach pain on a work trip.

She flew home from California and went straight to hospital, where doctor spotted a tumour and warned the cancer had spread to her liver.

Her slim odds of survival were raised the next year, after undergoing a successful operation to remove the cancer from her liver.

But, in a devastating turn of events, the disease returned and had spread to her bones.

A major trial of the technolog (pictured) ¿ involving 1,500 patients over two years ¿ is now being launched

A major trial of the technolog (pictured) ¿ involving 1,500 patients over two years ¿ is now being launched

A major trial of the technolog (pictured) – involving 1,500 patients over two years – is now being launched

The technique relies on a pioneering device that can detect chemicals given off by cancerous tumours

The technique relies on a pioneering device that can detect chemicals given off by cancerous tumours

The technique relies on a pioneering device that can detect chemicals given off by cancerous tumours

HOW DOES THE BREATHALYSER WORK?

Owlstone Medical’s test works by spotting waste products given off by cancer cells, which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

These find their way into a patient’s breath through the bloodstream, in a similar way to alcohol. 

In the trial being carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, patients will be asked to breathe into the device for ten minutes.

It will collect the airborne molecules before they are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Patients can expect to have their results within a few days, rather than the two weeks it typically takes for a biopsy.

Scientists also believe different cancers will cause recognisable alterations in the VOCs, allowing them to determine the chemical signatures for each. 

Chemotherapy failed to help her during her fight and by late 2014 it was revealed the drugs had stopped working.

She passed away aged 36, on Christmas Day. 

In Mr Boyle’s biography on Owlstone Medical – the firm he co-founded in hope of helping others, he blamed a ‘late diagnosis’ for his wife’s death.

It later emerged an exploratory examination in 2007 had not been sufficiently thorough and failed to reveal a pre-cancerous polyp. 

During her battle, she kept a poignant blog about her illness. It was later turned into a book, Late Fragments, which became a bestseller.

In her final post, she revealed how she was preparing to enjoy her last Christmas with her family. 

Mrs Gross died just minutes before her twin sons Oscar and Isaac, then five, asked if it was time for them to open their stocking, her mother Jean once revealed.    

‘Because of the experience of my wife and my family, we saw the devastation that cancer brings to families,’ Mr Boyle told Sky News in February 2015.

Owlstone Medical's test works by spotting waste products given off by cancer cells, which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Pictured is Billy Boyle

Owlstone Medical's test works by spotting waste products given off by cancer cells, which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Pictured is Billy Boyle

Owlstone Medical’s test works by spotting waste products given off by cancer cells, which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Pictured is Billy Boyle

During Mrs Gross' battle, she kept a poignant blog about her illness. It was later turned into a book, Late Fragments, which became a bestseller

During Mrs Gross' battle, she kept a poignant blog about her illness. It was later turned into a book, Late Fragments, which became a bestseller

During Mrs Gross’ battle, she kept a poignant blog about her illness. It was later turned into a book, Late Fragments, which became a bestseller

‘You develop technologies for a reason. Sometimes it’s for monetary gain. Other times it’s to make a difference. 

‘And I think we have a real opportunity to try and improve the lives of patients. 

‘When my wife was sick, we talked about what motivated her, what motivates me.

‘Knowing the conversations I had with her about how we can develop technology for the benefit of others is something that makes me walk into the office every day. It puts an extra spring in my step.’ 

Owlstone Medical’s test works by spotting waste products given off by cancer cells, which are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). 

These find their way into a patient’s breath through the bloodstream, in a similar way to alcohol. 

In the trial being carried out at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, patients will be asked to breathe into the device for ten minutes.

It will collect the airborne molecules before they are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Patients can expect to have their results within a few days, rather than the two weeks it typically takes for a biopsy.

Scientists also believe different cancers will cause recognisable alterations in the VOCs, allowing them to determine the chemical signatures for each. 

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