As millions across the world battle with cancer, a new method has been developed to detect early-stage cancer tumour cells in the blood using a malaria protein VAR2CSA that sticks to cancer cells, researchers claim.
Scientists at an Australian university carried out the research. And the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Sydney and the University of Copenhagen together studied the research, the UNSW said in a statement.
“We have developed a method where we take a blood sample, and with great sensitivity and specificity we are able to retrieve the individual cancer cells from the blood,” UNSW professor Chris was quoted as saying in the statement.
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Ali Salanti of the University of Copenhagen, discovered in 2015 the new method of treating cancer with the protein VAR2CSA produced by malaria parasites, according to the statement.
“We catch the cancer cells in greater numbers than existing methods, which offers the opportunity to detect cancer earlier and thus improve outcome for patients,” Heeschen said.
This method, in which malaria protein VAR2CSA sticks to cancer cells, can be used as a “more effective” way to screen for cancer in the near future, Heeschen said.
The new method can be used “more broadly to diagnose cancer” as it is not limited by cancer type. It also means all that is needed for a cancer diagnosis is a blood sample, the statement said.
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The findings were published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.
The new method can be made available in the market within two years if a bio-diagnostic company were to take it on, Heeschen said.
“Previous methods to detect cancer in blood relied on detecting a particular marker found on the surface of tumour cells. However, not all tumour cells display this marker, which renders these methods unable to detect tumour cells spread to other organs such as the liver, lungs and bones,” the UNSW said in the statement.
The method based on the malaria protein “does not discriminate” between cancer types, and can detect all carcinoma cancers, accounting for 95 per cent of cancers detected in humans, it said.
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During the study, the researchers took 10 cancer cells and added them to five millilitres of blood containing millions of red and white blood cells. Magnetic beads coated with the malaria protein were then added to the samples.
“The beads stick to the cancer cells only and can then be retrieved with a robotic machine that uses a strong magnet. This way, they were able to retrieve nine out of the 10 cancer cells which had adhered to malaria protein,” the statement said.
This was a “definitive” result. “The malaria protein sticks to all cancer cells, with no exceptions. The 10th cell was probably missed due to technical limitations inherent to the retrieval technology,” Heeschen added.
(With inputs from agencies)