- A blood test that can track the success of cancer treatment in real-time has been launched.
- The test can reveal in 24 hours if therapy against specific molecules is impacting tumor growth.
- This means cancer treatment can be modified or adapted to a patient’s response.
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A blood test that can track the success or failure of cancer treatment in real-time has been launched, scientists at the University of Singapore (NUS) have announced. The study has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The test is the first of its kind in the world. The way the blood is analyzed can reveal in as little as 24 hours whether targeted therapy against specific molecules is having an effect on tumor growth.
This means cancer treatment can be modified or adapted to a patient’s response, thereby increasing its effectiveness.
The test is called ExoSCOPE and will enable healthcare professionals to accurately classify disease status and determine the outcome of treatment within 24 hours of starting treatment.
It is a giant leap forward for medical professionals and cancer patients: the pioneering blood test will make adjustments easier, significantly speed up cancer treatment assessment and improve chances of recovery.
The test is intended to measure how targeted therapies work, which, unlike conventional chemotherapy, attack specific molecules responsible for enabling cancer cells to grow and spread.
These drugs also block abnormal cancer growth at the same time.
In other words, these therapies attack cancer cells without harming normal cells, according to Cancer.org.
Currently, volumetric tumor imaging – which is insensitive and delayed – or tissue biopsies – which are much more invasive – are used to clinically evaluate therapies targeting solid tumors.
This new technology works like a liquid biopsy, is precise, and is much faster and more comfortable for the patient.
Assistant professor Shao Huilin and her research team from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the Institute of Health Innovation and Technology (iHealthtech) at the National University of Singapore (NUS) are the minds behind this development.
This is their project, which has finally seen the light of day after two years of platform development.
Success rate available within 24 hours of starting cancer treatment
The technique behind this blood test is extracellular vesicle monitoring of small molecule chemical occupancy and protein expression (ExoSCOPE).
It harnesses extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted by cancer cells circulating in the blood as reflective indicators that reveal whether the drug is being effective in targeting solid tumors.
“With ExoSCOPE, we can directly measure the results of therapy effectiveness within 24 hours of starting treatment,” says Shao Huilin. “It significantly reduces the time and cost for monitoring cancer treatment,” Conventional procedures are more expensive, time-consuming and difficult.
They explain that only a tiny amount of blood sample is needed for the method, which takes less than an hour to complete.
ExoSCOPE functions as an integrated nano-technology platform, measuring these membrane vesicles in the blood, which are at least 100 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair and invisible to a conventional light microscope.
If the targeted cancer treatment works, as the drug interferes with tumor growth, the treated cell releases the electrical vehicles containing the drug into the bloodstream.
And this innovative technology combines chemical biology and sensor development to measure these delicate changes in the blood.
“The ExoSCOPE sensor contains millions of gold nano-rings to capture the electric vehicles and amplify their drug-labeling signals to induce strong light signals. These light signals are then processed into a readout which indicates the effectiveness of the drug,” says Zhang Yan, a PhD student in the NUS Department of Biomedical Engineering and iHealthtech and co-author of the study.
So far, the clinical study has yielded encouraging results.
After including 163 blood samples from 106 lung cancer patients, ExoSCOPE achieved an accuracy rate of 95% but within 24 hours of treatment initiation, compared to volumetric tumor imaging.
The team’s next steps are to expand its platform to explore the efficacy of different therapies, as well as to apply the technology to diseases beyond cancer, such as cardiovascular and neurological problems.
This is not the first technology to harness the potential of blood to detect cancer: other studies have used this form of analysis to detect tumors, used machine learning to diagnose up to 50 types of cancer, and discovered lung cancer several years earlier than would be possible with current means.
A patent has already been filed for ExoSCOPE and the NUS team hopes to get this technology on the market within the next three years, contributing to personalized treatments, improved clinical decision-making, and optimized cancer outcomes.