A simple blood test to detect the early signs of a brain tumour could soon be possible thanks to emerging research that uses computer modelling to spot telltale signs of cancer.
Researchers at the UK's University of Bristol found mathematical models that helped them examine and compare new biomarkers and tests for brain tumours as they emerged.
The breakthrough is part of wider research into the development of a blood test to help GPs diagnose early signs of a cancerous brain tumour, deliver faster care and improve patient recovery.
Biomarkers in the blood are already used to test for glioblastomas (GBMs), a fast-growing, aggressive type of tumour that attacks surrounding brain tissue.
An affordable and fast point-of-care test to detect a tumour could be the next breakthrough, thanks to the research by the University of Bristol and Cancer Research UK.
The project combined biomarker discovery, development of fluorescent nanoparticles to highlight genetic abnormalities and new testing techniques using computational modelling.
“Our findings provide the basis for further clinical data on the impact of lowering the current detection threshold for the known biomarker GFAP [glial fibrillary acidic protein] to allow earlier detection of GBMs using blood tests,” said Dr Johanna Blee, lead author of the research at the university’s department of engineering mathematics.
“With further experimental data, it may also be possible to quantify tumour and patient heterogeneities and incorporate errors into our models and predictions for blood levels for different tumours.
“We have also demonstrated how our models can be combined with other diagnostics such as scans to enhance clinical insight with a view to developing more personalised and effective treatments.”
Researchers used computational modelling to explore the impact of tumour characteristics and patient differences on detection.
Spotting a brain tumour at a late stage hugely diminishes survival chances.
On average, just 20 per cent of those diagnosed live beyond five years of a diagnosis, often because they present late with large inoperable tumours.
Blood tests for cancer are currently used by doctors to determine tumour markers, protein levels, complete blood count and the presence of cancerous cells.
While a test to measure the level of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in samples has revolutionised the way GPs spot early signs of prostate cancer in men, similar success is hoped for in the detection of other cancers where early diagnosis is critical for survival.
Home DNA testing kits are also now available from private testing facilities in Dubai to detect signs of colorectal cancer.
“These mathematical models could be used to examine and compare new biomarkers and tests for brain tumours as they emerge,” said Dr Blee.
“We are hopeful this research will ultimately aid the development of a simple blood test for brain tumours, enabling earlier and more detailed diagnoses.”