U.K. team speeds brain cancer diagnostic process

A team of U.K. researchers has come up with an affordable, quick and accurate way to diagnose brain cancer in a fraction of the time that current technology allows. The early results are promising enough that they've patented their new approach. Pending further clinical work, the technique could enable much more rapid diagnosis and treatment of the deadly disease down the line.

"This new test could expand cancer diagnostics globally, allowing the possibility of screening for brain cancer to diagnose at a much earlier stage and detecting for recurrent tumors," Matthew Baker, a professor at The University of Central Lancashire's School of Forensic and Investigative Sciences and a lead researcher on the study, said in a statement.

Baker worked with colleague Peter Abel to develop the new diagnostic, based on an analysis of blood samples from 49 cancer patients and 25 cancer-free patients. The journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry published details of their research. Two other universities--Lancaster University and the University of Jena--confirmed similar results through tests on human tissue samples, the researchers said.

Two elements come into play. First, shining infrared spectroscopy onto the blood samples helped detect molecular differences that diagnosed cancer within 30 minutes. Separately, the researchers were also able to pinpoint glioma cells in the blood by identifying levels of cytokine angiogenesis-associated protein--a biomarker that diagnosed the cancer in just a few hours. Combined, the researchers said, the tests work together to identify brain tumor molecular structure in blood in different, complementary ways.

These early results, promising as they are, must be repeated in more and larger studies before the new test options become viable. If the researchers succeed, they will meet a real need. Right now, patients must be hospitalized for two or three days to diagnose brain cancer, a process that involves tissue samples and plenty of anxious waiting. And once identified, brain cancer can be hard to treat, so early diagnosis and treatment could make all the difference in the future. Identifying cancer recurrence quickly enough to boost a patient's survival chances can also be a challenge.

That leaves room in the healthcare marketplace for a test that gets the job done in a short amount of time and avoids the need for hospitalization, filling a need but reducing healthcare costs at the same time.

"We believe that in time, this technique could be carried out by a doctor as part of a regular health screening, helping to increase survival rates while relieving the healthcare resource crisis," co-author Peter Abel said in a statement.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract
- get the BBC's take

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