‘Could prove 10,000 TIMES more effective, and lead to earlier diagnosis’.
A new test designed to detect diseases including HIV and cancer could prove 10,000 times more effective than current diagnostic tools, experts claim.
Early detection of most diseases significantly increases the chance of successful treatment.
While one aspect of early diagnosis is luck – whether a patient is screened at the right time, another important aspect is that tests are sensitive enough to pick up on the minuscule changes that diseases leave in the blood stream.
Now scientists at Stanford University have developed a new technique, which they hope will prove thousands of times more sensitive than those currently used in lab experiments.
The new process is now being tested in real-world clinical trials, they said.
When a disease, whether it is cancer or a virus like HIV, begins growing in the body, the immune system responds by producing antibodies.
Fishing these antibodies or related biomarkers out of the blood is one way that scientists can discover the presence of a disease.
This involves designed a molecule that the biomarker will bind to, and which can be adorned with an identifying ‘flag’.
Through a series of specialized chemical reactions, known as an immunoassay, scientists can isolate that flag, and the biomarker bound to it, to estimate a measurement of the disease.
The new technique, developed in the lab of Carolyn Bertozzi, a professor of chemistry at Stanford, takes this standard procedure a step further, using powerful DNA screening technology.
In this case, the chemists have replaced the standard flag with a short strand of DNA, which can then be teased out of the sample using DNA isolation technologies that are far more sensitive than those possible for traditional antibody detection.
Co-author of the study, Peter Robinson, a graduate student in Professor Bertozzi’s group, said: ‘This is spiritually related to a basic science tool we were developing to detect protein modifications, but we realized that the core principles were pretty straightforward and that the approach might be better served as a diagnostic tool.’
The researchers tested their technique, with its signature DNA flag, against four commercially available, FDA-approved tests for a biomarker for thyroid cancer.
The new technique outperformed the sensitivity of all of them, by at least 800 times, and as much as 10,000 times.
By detecting the biomarkers of disease at lower concentrations, doctors could theoretically catch diseases far earlier in their progression, the chemists noted.
Mr Robinson said: ‘The thyroid cancer test has historically been a fairly challenging immunoassay, because it provides a lot of false positive and false negatives, so it wasn’t clear if our test would have an advantage.
‘We suspected ours would be more sensitive, but we were pleasantly surprised by the magnitude.’
Putting basic research to use in a clinical setting has been a focus of Professor Bertozzi’s since she arrived at Stanford.
‘I moved to Stanford with the anticipation that translation of my students’ innovations to clinically impactful products and technologies would be enabled,’ she said.
‘That goal is being delightfully fulfilled.’
Based on the success of the thyroid screening, the group has won a few grants to advance the technique into clinical trials.
One trial underway in collaboration with the nearby Alameda County Public Health Laboratory will help evaluate the technique as a screening tool for HIV.
Early detection and treatment of the virus can help ensure that its effects on the patient are minimized and reduce the chance that it is transmitted to others.
This effort is supported by a pilot grant from Stanford-Spectrum, funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.
‘Many of our collaborators are excited that the test can be readily deployed in their lab,’ said co-author Cheng-ting ‘Jason’ Tsai, a graduate student in Professor Bertozzi’s group.
‘In contrast to many new diagnostic techniques, this test is performed on pre-existing machines that most clinical labs are already familiar with.’
The researchers are also pursuing tests for type 1 diabetes, for which early detection could help patients manage the disease with fewer side effects.
Written Lizzie Parry for The Daily Mail, March 14, 2016.
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