Pioneering Blood Test May Boost Brain Cancer Survival Rates

gamma knife surgery - scientist holding test tube with blood sample

Brain tumour treatment may be on the verge of a major breakthrough, as UK researchers have developed a simple blood test that could potentially diagnose certain types of brain cancer. The Guardian reports that the blood test could lead to an earlier diagnosis of cancer, increasing the chances of survival.

According to Cancer Research UK, just 11% of adults survive brain cancer for 10 years or more after diagnosis. On average, 12,288 new cases are diagnosed each year, and there are 5,456 deaths from brain tumours annually in the UK.

This makes it one of the most deadly cancers in the UK, leading to the deaths of more children and young people under 40 than any other type of cancer. Despite this, research into brain tumours has been historically neglected and underfunded compared to other types of cancer.

The new test could potentially make diagnosis much quicker and easier, eliminating the need for an invasive biopsy. Traditional forms of open brain surgery can be risky, particularly if the tumour is in a critical or difficult to access area of the brain. It also carries a high risk of complications, particularly for patients who are older or not in good overall health.

The test was developed by researchers at the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence, run by Imperial College London and Imperial College healthcare NHS trust. The results of the first studies have shown great promise in diagnosing tumours, including glioblastomas, which are the most common type of high-grade tumour in adults.

The test works by isolating glial cells that have broken free from the tumour and entered the bloodstream. The isolated cells can be stained to make them stand out and analysed for specific indicators of disease. It is known as the TriNetra blood test. Earlier diagnosis can lead to earlier and more effective treatment, boosting survival rates.

Dr Nelofer Syed, who leads the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence, said: “A non-invasive, inexpensive method for the early detection of brain tumours is critical for improvements in patient care.”

“There is still some way to go, but this solution could help people where a brain biopsy or surgical resection of the tumour is not possible due to the location of the tumour or other constraints.”

He added: “Through this technology, a diagnosis of inaccessible tumours can become possible through a risk-free and patient-friendly blood test. We believe this would be a world first as there are currently no non-invasive or non-radiological tests for these types of tumours.”

The test is targeted at gliomas. These are tumours that have developed from cells that should become healthy glial brain cells. Glial cells support the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Glioma brain tumours can be low grade and benign, or high grade and cancerous.

Kevin O’Neill, consultant neurosurgeon at Imperial College healthcare NHS trust and honorary clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College London, who leads the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence with Syed, told The Guardian: “This test is not just an indicator of disease, it is a truly diagnostic liquid biopsy.”

“It detects intact circulating tumour cells from the blood, which can be analysed to the same cellular detail as an actual tissue sample. It’s a real breakthrough for treatment of brain cancers that rarely spread around the body.

“This could help speed up diagnosis, enabling surgeons to apply tailored treatments based on that biopsy to increase patients’ chances of survival. I’m very grateful to everyone who has contributed to this study, especially the patients involved.”

Dan Knowles, CEO of Brain Tumour Research, said: “The research undertaken in UK universities is world class and something we should all be proud of, but we need so much more. There is an urgent need for novel approaches, particularly in the treatment of GBM, which is fatal in most cases.”

The researchers now plan to carry out larger studies and clinical trials to consolidate the early positive results. If they continue to prove to be highly accurate, it is possible that the blood test could be widely rolled out to patients in the UK within two years.


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