New Blood Test Makes Brain Cancer Diagnosis Quicker
Sat, April 10, 2021

New Blood Test Makes Brain Cancer Diagnosis Quicker

Technology found a way to determine patients with brain cancer without the need for extensive preparation / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Research led by the University of Strathclyde in Scotland resulted in the development of a new blood test that can help accelerate brain cancer diagnosis. With the use of infrared light and artificial intelligence, the patented technology checks for signs of cancer within a blood sample's biosignature.

The work has been published in the journal Nature Communications and is being commercialized by University spin-out company ClinSpec Diagnostics Limited. The research also involved clinicians from the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, the University of Liverpool, and the Walton NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool.

Poor outlook on brain cancer

Even though it is rare, brain cancer is one of the major health problems worldwide and often has a poor outlook. The National Cancer Institute estimates nearly 24,000 new cases of brain cancer and other forms of cancer in the nervous system in 2019, which is 1.4 percent of all new cancer cases estimated for the year.

It also forecasted that the illness will lead to almost 18,000 deaths (2.9 percent of all cancer deaths) as those who receive such a diagnosis have a five-year survival rate of less than 33 percent.

According to Medical News Today, a web-based outlet for medical news, the poor outlook is mainly due to the fact that there are very nonspecific symptoms for brain tumors that make it difficult to distinguish them from other conditions.



This difficulty in diagnosis leads to "delays and frustration for lots of patients," said Paul Brennan, a partner in the study and a senior clinical lecturer and consultant neurosurgeon at the University of Edinburgh.

"The problem is that symptoms of brain tumor are quite non-specific, such as headache or memory problems. It can be difficult for doctors to tell which people are most likely to have a brain tumor."

Medical News Today added that the lack of cost-effective tests, which could help clinicians triage patients in primary care, means a longer period before getting an accurate diagnosis—ultimately leading to a poorer outlook.

In this regard, the new blood test presents the potential for an accurate and fast diagnosis.

Accelerating the diagnosis

Described as "a simple, label-free, noninvasive, nondestructive" technique, the new blood test uses infrared light to produce a "biosignature" of blood samples and, with the application of AI, looks for any indication of cancer. The use of infrared and machine learning technology allows the method to analyze a blood sample's biochemical profile without the need for extensive preparation.

To determine the effectiveness of the new test, the researchers analyzed blood samples from a cohort of 104 patients and found that it was able to correctly determine the patients with brain cancer from those who don't 87 percent of the time.

The findings showed that doctors can quickly identify patients with non-specific symptoms that should be prioritized for urgent brain imaging, Brennan said. He added that this also indicated a "more rapid diagnosis for people with a brain tumor and quicker access to treatment."



However, the researchers noted that the new blood test doesn't present an absolute diagnosis and instead provides an early insight into its diagnostic accuracy. But science news aggregator Science Daily said the proposed system may still give a significant contribution to the process as a triage tool.

"This work presents a step in the translation of ATR-FTIR (attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared) spectroscopy into the clinic," the researchers said, referring to the technique used in producing the biosignature in the blood samples. "This step toward high-throughput analysis has implications in the field of IR spectroscopy as well as the clinical environment."

The clinical pathway

Results of the blood test are the first publication of data from the ClinSpec-commercialized research, as well as the first demonstration that the blood test works, study leader Matthew J. Baker said.

"Earlier detection of brain tumors in the diagnostic pathway brings the potential to significantly improve patient quality of life and survival, while also providing savings to the health services," he said, as quoted by Science Daily.

The new technique comes as the number of people diagnosed with brain cancer continues to rise and the urgency to find new treatments and a possible cure becomes more pressing.


There are numerous brain cancer cases reported around the world / Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Brain Tumor Charity Ambassador Hayley Smith, whose husband has been diagnosed with the disease, said it is "very encouraging" to know that the new blood test can provide a faster and more accurate diagnosis for brain cancer.

"Matthew's (Smith’s husband) doctors believe that his brain tumor was slowly growing for around 14 years but only started presenting symptoms that could be linked to a brain tumor around six weeks before he ended up in A and E following a seizure. Initially, these symptoms had been misdiagnosed as a migraine. Had this new test been available it might have been spotted earlier."

Smith added that it's promising to know that the "best of the best" are looking for quicker diagnosis and new treatments as Scotland now has research teams composed of experts from all over the world.