CRUK funds Imperial experts’ plans to develop early cancer screening tests

CRUK has given a multidisciplinary team £290,000 to develop tests for early diagnosis of prostate cancer.

The fund will help a team of Imperial College London researchers develop a test that provides a result within hours.

The researchers hope the test, which will use a small sample of blood, could eventually be available in GP surgeries. It will work by detecting biomarkers in the blood to help diagnose prostate cancer earlier than currently offered, possibly through public screening.

"We aim to combine our expertise in bioengineering, device making, and medicine to provide an easier, cheaper alternative to many laboratory-based cancer tests." - Dr Sylvain Ladame

The team, led by Dr Sylvain Ladame from Imperial’s Department of Bioengineering , is made up of several experts from across the Faculties of Engineering and Medicine - most of whom are members of the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Imperial Centre. The Centre which brings together researchers from all disciplines to deliver high quality cancer research.

They will first develop a sensitive test to detect early-stage prostate cancer. Current tests for prostate cancer look for prostate specific antigens (PSA), which may or may not indicate cancer that requires treatment. Use of the PSA test can however lead to overtreatment, which might include unnecessary surgery.

However, Imperial’s experts have designed a test that detects fragments of genetic material called microRNAs that are detectable in blood. They could provide a much clearer and more reliable diagnosis than PSA tests.

From design to detection

Our current challenge is to make a test that will give men with possible prostate cancer the best chance possible. We hope our minimally invasive, inexpensive microRNA test will tick these boxes. Professor Charlotte Bevan Department of Surgery and Cancer

The money will fund device development. The device has two components: a processing platform which will separate microRNAs from the blood, and a detector to assess whether there are enough specific microRNAs present to suggest cancer.

Dr Ladame said: “The funding will let us turn our designs into a testable reality. We aim to combine our expertise in bioengineering, device making, and medicine to provide an easier, cheaper alternative to many laboratory-based cancer tests.”

Co-collaborator Professor Charlotte Bevan , from Imperial’s Department of Surgery & Cancer , said: “I am very excited about working with the team on this cross-Faculty project. Patients are much more likely to survive if their cancer is caught and treated early, so our current challenge is to make a test that will give men with possible prostate cancer the best chance possible. We hope our minimally invasive, inexpensive microRNA test will tick these boxes.”

Once they perfect the prostate cancer test, the team will use similar methods to develop GP-useable tests for other types of cancer. They hope to have the first devices made and tested within five years.

Credit for main image: Shutterstock/CI Photos