Early Detection of Brain Tumors and Beyond
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The ability to detect a tumor earlier, when it is smaller, reduces the impact of surgery and treatment, improving the prognosis for many patients. Dxcover has developed a new spectroscopic liquid biopsy approach that is able to identify brain tumors as small as 0.2 cm3 from a blood sample in as little as fifteen minutes.
Technology Networks had the pleasure of speaking with the company’s CEO and co-founder Mark Hegarty to learn more about this technology. Hegarty highlights the importance of early detection and discusses how they are looking beyond brain tumors, to develop a platform for the early detection of several commonly occurring cancers.
Laura Lansdowne (LL): Can you tell us more about the global incidence of brain cancer?
Mark Hegarty (MH): In 2020, the worldwide incidence of brain cancer was 308,102 and in the same year, 251,329 people died from brain cancers. Closer to home, 33 new cases of brain cancer are diagnosed in the UK every day with only 12% of adult brain cancer patients surviving five years post-diagnosis. Brain cancer reduces life expectancy, on average, by 27 years – the highest of any cancer.
Zoe Braybrook (ZB): Why is brain cancer commonly misdiagnosed and what can it be misdiagnosed as being? What impact does this have on a patient’s prognosis?
MH: The symptoms of brain cancer can be non-specific, such as headache, or dizziness. For primary care physicians/general practitioners (GPs), it can be likened to finding a needle in a haystack, as not everyone who presents with these generic symptoms can be referred for expensive brain imaging.
Often patients are not referred, and as such, 38% of patients with brain cancers visit their GP more than five times before being referred to secondary care. Sixty-two percent of cases are diagnosed in emergency care settings when symptoms have developed more significantly.
The time to diagnosis for brain cancer patients can be longer, but earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment which may have a positive impact on patient quality of life, and even survival.
ZB: Could you elaborate on the design of the study published in Cancers? Analysis revealed that the Dxcover® Brain Cancer test could identify brain tumors in patients with gliomas as small as 0.2 cm3. How did tumor size impact test sensitivity?
MH: The purpose of the Cancers study was to investigate how tumor size and grade influences the test’s ability to correctly detect brain cancers.
A range of brain cancer types were investigated, including the most common high-grade brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), as well as low-grade tumors.
In the study, we show high disease prediction accuracy across tumors of all sizes, ranging from 0.2 cm3 to over 220 cm3 and maintain a test sensitivity of over 89% and a specificity above 95% in the dataset.
LL: How does the Dxcover Brain Cancer test work? What sets this novel spectroscopic liquid biopsy test apart from other diagnostic tests?
MH: Dxcover’s brain cancer detection test uses infrared light to analyze a blood serum sample which detects the signal of disease using machine learning technology.
First, a drop of blood serum is dried onto our Dxcover® Sample Slides. The dry sample is then analyzed with infrared light. Then our artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm detects the signals of cancer in minutes.
It’s as simple as Drop, Dry, Detect™.
Other technologies focus on the genetic material within the blood sample, but our spectroscopic liquid biopsy captures data from all the vital components. The benefit of this is that we are not reliant upon single molecules which are often not present in early-stage disease.
The test is based upon the analytical technique known as attenuated total reflection-Fourier transform infrared (ATR-FTIR) spectroscopy, which has been revolutionized by novel hardware developed by the company.
LL: In the Cancers paper, it mentions that ATR-FTIR spectroscopy can also help to discriminate tumor subtypes, can you elaborate on this point? Can you talk about the link between tumor subtypes and drug sensitivity?
MH: Our previous publication showed that the Dxcover® Liquid Biopsy approach could successfully differentiate between brain cancer subtypes, with accuracies above 80%. This method of stratification could provide an indication of tumor histology post-treatment or following surgery.
ZB: How long has Dxcover been striving towards providing a method for the early detection of brain tumors? Are there plans to apply your technologies to any other types of cancer – if so, which types?
MH: Our spectroscopic liquid biopsy is based upon the world-leading research of Dr. Matthew Baker which started in 2012. The company was founded in 2016 with an aim to translate this novel liquid biopsy approach to the clinic and to help diagnose patients earlier. It has since grown rapidly, taking on new office and lab space, to accelerate the rollout of its innovative brain cancer detection technology. Dxcover is developing a multi-cancer early diagnosis platform that will target all cancers. The project is in the development stage – the company holds the patent for its unique methodology for the detection of all cancers.
Mark Hegarty was speaking to Zoe Braybrook, Marketing Campaign Coordinator and Laura Elizabeth Lansdowne, Managing Editor at Technology Networks.