In the United States, researchers are working on a urine test capable of detecting the presence of cancer cells. This test would make it possible to detect cancer, its location and even the response to the treatments implemented. An update on this discovery, with Dr. Pourmir, oncologist.
This is a unique self-test, similar to a pregnancy test. This tool – which is the subject of a vast investigation published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology – would be able to detect the development of cancer through a simple urine analysis.
A quick and simple self-test that indirectly detects cancer cells
In Europe, 1,200 new cases of cancer are detected daily, according to the National Cancer Institute. A real scourge that scientists around the world are trying to combat.
However, the development of a brand new urine test, by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could make it possible to detect cancers early and therefore better manage them.
An incredible breakthrough according to the researchers, who say that the first results of this test – carried out on mice – are encouraging. The self-test would even reveal the area of the body affected by cancer – but also observe the presence of tumor metastases.
An original and unique mode of action
Cancer cells produce special proteins that healthy cells do not produce. But these are present at such low levels during the early stages of the disease that it is almost impossible to detect them.
To get around this problem, researchers will identify not the suspect proteins, but evidence that they are indeed present. When tumors grow, they produce enzymes called proteases that promote tumor growth.
Researchers have developed nanoparticles bearing DNA marking. These tiny beads (up to 100,000 times smaller than a hair) are injected into the bloodstream. Proteases cut these DNA tags and release them from the nanoparticles. Thus released, they end up passing through the kidneys and are found in the urine. A simple strip of paper will, through another system, be able to amplify the presence of these DNA barcodes and reveal their presence with a dark line.
According to the researchers, the nanoparticles can carry several different DNA markers, each released by a different protease. Knowing that different cancers produce different enzymes can potentially determine the presence of cancer, its type, and whether it has spread.
“Our goal here is to create disease signatures and see if we can use these barcode panels not only to read a disease, but also to classify a disease or distinguish different types of cancer“, explains Professor Hao, author of the study.
A test for cancers, their origin, their recurrence and to assess their response to treatments
In tests on mice, researchers showed that a set of five DNA barcodes could accurately distinguish tumors that first appeared in the lungs from tumors formed by colorectal cancer cells that metastasized to the lungs .
For use in humans, researchers expect to need to use more than five barcodes due to the greater diversity of tumors. To achieve this goal, they worked with researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to create a microfluidic chip that could be used to read up to fifty different DNA barcodes from a sample.
This type of test could be used not only to detect cancer, but also to measure how well a patient’s tumor responds to treatment and whether it has recurred after treatment.
“A test that could really ease the patient journey”
In summary, the developed test – similar to a pregnancy test – analyzes urine for suspicious compounds. In case of cancer cells, a dark line would appear on the paper strip. A tool that could ease “the patient journey”!
Faced with this invention, Dr. Pourmir, interviewed on the subject, is rather enthusiastic.
“The test seems easy to use and minimally invasive, which is a good thing. But its performance must be analyzed, in terms of sensitivity and specificity, but also according to the type of cancer tested and the population selected.“. Furthermore, “this type of test can cause false positives, which is harmful for the patients concerned. The psychological repercussions can be significant, as can the additional physical examinations required – which themselves carry risks and costs.”warns the oncologist.
Another notable point: “This test, if it presents a significant sensitivity, could simplify the patient’s journey by avoiding having to undergo other screening tests, which are more “annoying” (scanner, colposcopy, etc.). This new tool must therefore make it possible to refine doctors’ diagnosis, while reassuring patients who do not have cancer.“.
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