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Detection of Liver Cancer Possible With Rapid Home Blood Test

Early Detection of Liver Cancer Possible With Rapid Home Blood Test

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  • Liver (hepatocellular) cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide; in 2015 alone 788000 persons died due to liver cancer according to a World Health Organization (WHO) estimate

  • Early diagnosis and treatment remains a challenge as the disease does not become symptomatic until the advanced stages
  • New rapid and inexpensive accurate blood test to detect liver cancer can be done by the patient himself and overcomes costly tests and hospital visits
Simple, cost-effective test for early diagnosis of liver cancer will have a major impact in low and middle income countries where the incidence of the disease and related mortality rates remain high. The test has been developed by a group of scientists at the University of Utah led by Chemical Engineering and Chemistry professor Marc Porter and surgeon and professor Courtney Scaife. The details of their work appear in Analytical Methods in August 2017.

Urgent Need For Early Diagnosis of Liver Cancer
Rapid strides have been made in the field of cancer both in terms of diagnostic modalities available, novel treatments which have greatly improved the quality of life, as well as the long-term prognosis of patients.


Unfortunately however, liver cancer often goes undetected in early stages, as it remains clinically silent and becomes symptomatic only in the later stages of the disease, when a cure may not always be possible.

Liver cancer is very prevalent and one of the leading causes of death in certain parts of Southeast Asia such as Mongolia. In addition, geographical considerations with lack of access to proper health care and absence of effective outreach programs also contribute to the increased mortality.

The study team believes that their simple and portable test will go a long way in early diagnosis and treatment with better outcome for such patients and their families.

Test For Early Liver Cancer Diagnosis - Alpha-fetoprotein Detection
  • The test is based on the reaction of specific antigen (alpha-fetoprotein, AFP in this case) and the corresponding antibody to produce a color change or signal which is visible and can be measured.
  • The test kit consists of a small domino-sized plastic cartridge having a thin paper membrane impregnated with antibody (AFP antibody here) to the specific antigen which is being tested.
  • The patient's test sample (eg: a small drop of blood, urine, saliva or even a teardrop), is dropped onto the membrane.
  • Following this a drop of gold nanoparticles is added to the membrane.
If the sample contains the antigen which is being tested it will be selectively trapped by the antibody impregnated in the membrane of the kit.
  • Upon adding the gold nanoparticles the trapped antigen will be tagged by the nanoparticles, resulting in a red spot on the membrane. This indicates that the person might have the disease and he needs to seek further medical advice and tests to confirm the diagnosis.
"The concept is similar to a home pregnancy test, but instead of flowing laterally, it flows through the membrane," says Granger, the lead author on the paper.
  • Furthermore, a portable spectrometer (manufactured by project collaborator B&W Tek, a Delaware-based manufacturer of mobile spectrometers), can then analyze the membranes and measure the intensity of color change (proportional to the concentration of biomarkers) present. This will potentially aid in determining the severity of disease and response of patient to therapy.
Interestingly the idea for this test came about following a similar test Porter developed for astronauts to test the cleanliness of their drinking water on the International Space Station. over eight years ago.

"This is a smarter offshoot of that," says Porter, who also is the director of the Nano Institute of Utah.

Limitations Of Current Diagnostic Tests For Liver Cancer
Currently, diagnosis of liver cancer is based on blood tests and ultrasound imaging that would require travelling to a diagnostic lab or a medical facility in the city. For many persons, especially in the developing world, this could be very expensive and the results will take about two weeks.

"If we can develop a rapid test that performs at a high level of clinical accuracy," Porter says, "then we've got something that can have an impact on human lives."

Scope of Current Study and Future Plans
  • The team feels that the test can be modified (by changing the impregnated antibody) to diagnose several infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, dengue and malaria.
  • The scientists are planning to test their technology in Mongolia in the spring of 2019, which has one of the highest death rates from liver cancer.
If the test proves to be beneficial and effective in field testing, it could usher in a new era in liver cancer screening, prevention and treatment.

References :
  1. Third Cohort joins NCI's Affordable Cancer Technologies Program: supporting the development of affordable technologies for cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment in LMICs - (https://www.cancer.gov/about-nci/organization/cgh/blog/2017/acts-cohort3\
Source: Medindia

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