New technology accurately distinguishes between cancerous cells and healthy cells. Will it give pathologists a “universal” assay for cancer diagnosis?
In England, a university team has developed a new technology for detecting circulating cancer cells in blood. Their method uses ultraviolet light and the results are so promising that efforts are now underway to develop this method into a clinical laboratory test.
Led by Diana Anderson BSc, MSc, Ph.D., DipEd, FSB, FRCPath, FIFST, FATS, FBTS, FHEA, FRSM, FRSC, a professor in the university’s Faculty of Life Sciences, researchers at the University of Bradford (Bradford) in Yorkshire, England, discovered that when blood cells get exposed to ultraviolet light (UVA), cancer cells can be differentiated from healthy cells. Armed with this revelation, the team developed the “lymphocyte genome sensitivity (LGS) test.”
The LGS test’s potential is that it could be a “universal” blood test for diagnosing cancer that will greatly enhance current cancer diagnostic tests, a university news release stated.
To explore the opportunity to “commercialize” the LGS test, Bradford filed for a patent on the technology and created Oncascan Limited.
Oncascan lists the following benefits to the LGS test on the company’s website:
- “For patients: reduced stress, risk or discomfort arising from interventions;
- “For clinicians: greater speed and accuracy of diagnosis; and
- “For health service providers: substantial cost savings, accessing social groups at risk of late presentation.”
Research Finds Cancer Patients Have DNA Easily Damaged by UVA
The researchers published their findings in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).
Clinical laboratories would use the LGS test to examine white blood cells and measure how various intensities of UVA light damage the cells’ DNA.
“White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defense system. We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measureable could be seen if we put them under further stress with UVA light. We found that people with cancer have DNA which is more easily damaged by ultraviolet light than other people, so the test shows the sensitivity to damage of all the DNA—the genome—in a cell,” Professor Anderson said in the University of Bradford’s news release.
Two hundred and eight people provided blood samples for the study. Ninety-four of the participants were healthy, while 114 were healthcare patients with confirmed cancer (melanoma, colon, and lung) and suspected cancer.
“The UVA damage was observed in the form of pieces of DNA being pulled in an electric field towards the positive end of the field, causing a comet-like tail. In the LGS test, the longer the tail the more DNA damage, and the measurements correlated to those patients who were ultimately diagnosed with cancer (58), those with pre-cancerous conditions (56) and those who were healthy (94),” the Bradford news release stated.
Small But Powerful Study
Researchers acknowledged their study’s small sample size. But they also pointed to the data’s statistical significance. “The possibility of these results happening by chance is 1 in 1,000. We believe this confirms the test’s potential as a diagnostic tool,” said Anderson, who added the LGS test could supplement other diagnostic procedures.
“The study is in a very early stage, but it shows a lot of promise. It’s such a simple blood test, and we hope it can prevent the need for invasive procedures like colonoscopies and biopsies and, hopefully, speed up diagnoses,” she said in an online interview with the Yorkshire Post.
The LGS test is in clinical trials at Bradford Royal Infirmary to determine if it can be used effectively to predict when a colonoscopy would be beneficial in diagnosing colorectal cancer.
—Donna Marie Pocius