• Blood test detection of Cancer through Metabalomics Analysis

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Blood test detection of Cancer through Metabalomics Analysis

Jan 18 2022

A new type of blood test that has been at the centre of studies carried out by researchers at the University of Oxford, can be used to detect a range of cancers and whether these cancers have spread (metastasised) in the body. The study(1), which recruited 300 patients through the Oxfordshire Suspected CANcer (SCAN) pathway  to assess whether the test could distinguish patients with a range of solid tumours from those without cancer, showed that cancer was correctly detected in 19 out of every 20 patients with cancer, with metastatic disease identified with an overall accuracy of 94%. These results make this the first technology to be able to determine the metastatic status of a cancer from a simple blood test, without prior knowledge of the primary cancer type.

Rather than detecting genetic material from tumours, this test used NMR metabolomics to profile levels of natural chemicals (metabolites) in the blood. The technique’s use of high magnetic fields and radio waves detects the different blood metabolites profiles of healthy individuals and those with either localised cancer, or metastatic cancer which were then analysed by the researchers’ algorithms to distinguish between these states.

Dr James Larkin, researcher on the study from the University of Oxford, says: “Cancer cells have unique metabolomic fingerprints due to their different metabolic processes. We are only now starting to understand how metabolites produced by tumours can be used as biomarkers to accurately detect cancer. We have already demonstrated that this technology can successfully identify if patients with multiple sclerosis are progressing to the later stages of disease, even before trained clinicians could tell. It is very exciting that the same technology is now showing promise in other diseases, like cancer.”

This rapid and inexpensive test could help to overcome many barriers to the early detection of cancer. NHS Rapid Diagnostic Centres, similar to Oxfordshire’s SCAN pathway, are currently being set up across the NHS to support faster and earlier cancer diagnosis in all patients with symptoms that could indicate cancer.

Dr Fay Probert, lead researcher of the study from the University of Oxford, says: “This work describes a new way of identifying cancer. The goal is to produce a test for cancer that any GP can request. We envisage that metabolomic analysis of the blood will allow accurate, timely and cost effective triaging of patients with suspected cancer and could allow better prioritisation of patients based on the additional early information this test provides on their disease.”

Published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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