Simple test similar to those used to find Covid could be used to detect brain tumours and warn people with aggressive recurring cancer if it has returned, researchers suggest

A simple lateral flow test used to detect brain tumours at home is being developed by scientists. 

The life-saving test could rapidly warn people with aggressive, recurring brain tumours if a tumour has come back. 

The test has been developed for glioblastoma – the type of aggressive brain tumour which affects around 2,200 people a year in the UK, and which comes back in about 75 per cent of cases. 

People currently often have an average wait of three to six months between MRI scans to see if a tumour has regrown. 

Therefore a test they could take a few times a week would reduce their anxiety, and could detect a tumour much faster – when surgery is still possible or a treatment like radiation or chemotherapy will work better. 

Scientists are developing the world’s first lateral flow test to detect brain tumours

The lateral flow test, similar to the ones used for Covid, takes a drop of blood rather than a nasal swab, and delivers a result within seconds. 

It searches for a molecule called protoporphyrin IX, which is a central component of red blood cells. Brain tumour cells, unlike normal cells, are believed by some experts to abandon a key function of helping the body produce red blood cells. 

So there may be more protoporphyrin IX in the body, which has not been used up by red blood cells, when someone’s brain tumour comes back. 

The test is hoped to be used on blood samples from 60 people, with and without brain tumours, in the next few months to see how well it works. 

Professor Philippe Wilson, a member of the team producing the test at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘This test will save lives for people with aggressive brain tumours who know a tumour is extremely likely to come back, so face a ticking time bomb. 

‘Currently, someone could get an MRI scan, then their tumour could start coming back the next day, and they wouldn’t know until their next scan. 

‘It would provide significant reassurance to be able to track the cancer’s reappearance at home using a cheap test which we are all now well-used to using.’ 

Normal cells in the body, including brain cells, produce chemicals used to grow separate red blood cells. 

They do this because they need red blood cells to carry oxygen from the heart, and provide them with energy. 

But brain tumour cells are believed to act strangely, and may abandon the activity of helping red blood cells grow, focusing on other processes like multiplying to form larger tumours. 

With fewer normal brain cells, and more brain tumour cells, the amount of protoporphyrin IX needed for red blood cells is lower. So it potentially hangs around in the body, unused, at a higher level. 

Scientists discovered this only in recent years, and are now harnessing the knowledge to create a test for protoporphyrin IX. 

People currently often have an average wait of three to six months between MRI scans to see if a tumour has regrown

People currently often have an average wait of three to six months between MRI scans to see if a tumour has regrown

This includes an antibody which latches on to protoporphyrin IX with 100 per cent accuracy, early analysis shows, so it can be isolated and measured. 

The researchers, whose work has not yet been published in a journal or reviewed by other scientists, say the test could later be used for other cancers, looking for different molecules in blood or saliva whose levels change because of different types of cancer. 

But it is first being developed for gliobastoma, which leads to almost 200,000 deaths a year globally. 

Dr Ola Rominiyi, a co-author of the research from the University of Sheffield’s School of Medicine and Population Health, said: ‘Currently, patients often have follow-up MRI scans every three to six months, but successful development of a lateral flow test to detect brain cancer could make it possible to efficiently test for recurrence every week, so that more recurrent tumours are caught early, at a more treatable stage.’

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