A world-leading research team at the University of Bradford has made a major breakthrough that could mean patients with suspected cancer being given a simple blood test to diagnose the disease.
The blood test, which is currently being trialled at Bradford Royal Infirmary, has so far shown “remarkable” results.
Although in its early stages, Professor Diana Anderson, who developed it, said it could lead to changes in cancer diagnosis, helping patients avoid invasive cancer tests like colonoscopies.
The test has been in the research stages for over a decade, and involves a blood test that will determine if a person is cancer free, or among the one in three people who are more susceptible to developing the disease.
The test means doctors can rule out cancer in patients who have certain symptoms. It has so far proved accurate in detecting melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer, and further tests are expected to show that other cancers will also be detectable from it.
Prof Anderson, from the University’s School of Life Sciences, said it meant the long wait for results could be reduced to the time it takes to receive the outcome of a blood test.
The Lymphocyte Genome Sensitivity (LGS) test looks at white blood cells and measures the damage caused to their DNA when subjected to different intensities of ultraviolet light (UVA) which is known to damage DNA.
The results of the study show a distinction between damage to the white blood cells from patients with cancer, with pre-cancerous conditions and from healthy patients.
Prof Anderson said: “White blood cells are part of the body’s natural defence system. We know that they are under stress when they are fighting cancer or other diseases, so I wondered whether anything measurable 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.”
The study looked at blood samples taken from 208 people. Ninety-four healthy individuals were recruited from staff and students at the University of Bradford and 114 blood samples were collected from patients referred to specialist clinics within BRI prior to diagnosis and treatment. The samples were randomised and exposed to UVA light.
Prof Anderson said: “These are early results completed on three different types of cancer and we accept that more research needs to be done; but these results so far are remarkable.”
She believes that if the LGS proves to be a trusted cancer diagnostic test, it would be a valuable addition to the more traditional investigative procedures for detection, and would save many people from going through such tests. She said it would also help cut down on cases of infection on occasions where invasive tests are currently required.
Prof Anderson said: “Most of the tests out there for cancer are based on genes, this is the first I’m aware of that uses blood.
“If someone goes in to check for breast cancer and they find a lump they could be waiting for test results for a while, and they will be worrying if they have cancer in that time. If you have this test it could help tell if you were cancer sensitive or not.”
A clinical trial is currently under way at BRI.
The University of Bradford has filed patents for the technology and a company, Oncascan, has been established to commercialise the research.
The research has also been published online in FASEB Journal, the US journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.