Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has funded a project run by a team of researchers at the University of Bristol to develop a new blood-based test for early diagnosis of brain cancer. The researchers are planning to deploy the point-of-care (POC) assay based on a fluorescent nanophotonics platform, which is a platform that studies the behaviour of light on the nanometer scale.

The project is being led by Kathreena Kurian, who says that there is a strong demand for a blood-based POC test in the UK as many patients repeatedly visit the GP before they are referred for a CT scan or MRI.

From the scans, most come back negative which is a burden on the NHS service. The team hopes that by deploying a blood test that could be run by GPs, cancers will be detected earlier, fewer well-patients will need to be scanned, and be used to track recurrence.

The research will initially focus on the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) marker, which the team has regularly been using in the lab and transfer the test to a new platform where it can be used at the POC. The GFAP molecular is a reliable molecule for diagnosis, however, the measurement of GFAP via enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assays (ELISAs) is not specific enough, and too time-consuming for the researchers.

The researchers have partnered with FluoretiQ, who have been developing a rapid test called Nanoplex for diagnosing bacterial infections. However, it is believed that the same technology can be used to detect blood biomarkers. The technology uses fluorescent carbon dots that can be attached to antibodies targeting protein markers, such as GFAP that are then detected using nanophotonics.

The project is funded until 2024, and by then they hope to have this test optimised for clinical use. Eventually, the team hopes to develop nucleic acid-based diagnostics. There are plans to undertake genome-wide associated studies on brain cancer sampled to identify single-nucleotide variant signatures that can be used for diagnosis or treatment guide treatment, but Kurian says these plans are in the very early stage.

This is the first oncology project that FluroetiQ has embarked on.