Picture source: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/oesophageal-cancer/about

John Hopkins University has announced a partnership with Cambridge-based start-up, Capsulomics, to study the detection of oesophageal cancer and Barrett’s oesophagus.

Barrett’s oesophagus is a pre-cancerous condition where the lining of the oesophagus develops abnormally. It is caused by damage to the lower oesophageal cells by acid reflux and bile, and patients with the condition may be recommended to have regular check-ups to check for early warning signs of cancer.  

The study is being funded by a five-year $3.7 million NIH grant that was awarded in 2018, and the group aims to commercialise an assay that they believe is cheaper and less invasive than standard endoscopies.

Capsulomics has developed a technology that integrates a sponge-based collection tool and a methylated-bead PCR method that detects Barrett’s oesophagus that they hope will be able to replace standard endoscopy practice.  Currently, clinicians can only identify Barrett’s oesophagus using an invasive endoscopy and examining the tissue biopsy, which is often too expensive and inconvenient for asymptomatic patients.

Although the patient risk of developing oesophageal cancer from Barrett’ oesophagus is still small, a cheaper, more convenient test could mean better screening and earlier detection for patients.

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