When it comes to cancer, finding the most effective treatments as early as possible is crucial. A new blood test may help doctors achieve this goal.
Researchers have developed a way to analyze blood that tells within 24 hours whether a targeted cancer therapy (which targets specific molecules directly) is having an effect on tumor growth.
The technique was called monitoring the occupation of small chemical molecules and protein expression by extracellular vesicles (ExoSCOPE), and it works by looking for extracellular vesicles (EVs) – tiny molecules released by cells – in the blood. In this case, cancer cells that have been attacked by the drug will secrete EVs with traces of the drug.
– Conventional procedures, such as tumor imaging, are not only expensive but also delayed. With these methods, treatment efficacy can only be determined after weeks. Using ExoSCOPE, we can directly measure the results of a drug’s effectiveness within 24 hours of starting treatment. This will significantly reduce the time and cost of monitoring cancer treatment, said Shao Huilin, a biophysicist at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
EVs are at least a hundred times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. They cannot be seen with standard microscopes, but using a special sensor array involving millions of gold nanorods, the researchers were able to amplify the drug signals that the EVs were sending out. The ExoSCOPE system can indicate whether the drugs have reached their target in the body.
Moreover, the new setup is able to monitor drug dynamics over time, checking whether the therapy is working or encountering resistance. This gives specialists a comprehensive picture in a very short time.
– This method requires only a small amount of blood sample for analysis and each test takes less than an hour to complete. Thus, it is less invasive and also more informative. In this way, doctors could monitor a patient’s response to treatment with greater regularity during the course of treatment and make timely adjustments to adjust treatment for better results, Huilin added.
In a clinical trial involving 106 lung cancer patients, the ExoSCOPE technique achieved a 95 percent accuracy rate when determining drug efficacy, comparable to the current method of measuring tumors, but did so in much less time.
Scientists are making progress in the fight against cancer, not only in developing treatments, but also in making sure those treatments work, in reducing the risk of remission, and in detecting cancers early.
After two years of developing ExoSCOPE, the team wants to expand its reach to cover more types of cancer and use more treatments. The technique could be in use in about three years.