Government denies funding for cancer treatment device that detects and washes cancer cells from blood
A BLOOD test for cancer that could remove the need for expensive biopsy surgery is being trialled in hospitals in Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
And researchers claim within five years the disease could be treated by washing the cancer cells from the blood using a method similar to kidney dialysis.
But despite having a Prime Minister devoted to innovation, the researchers say applications for five government research grants to progress the treatment technology have been rejected because they aren’t part of Australia’s “scientific boys club”
University of NSW researcher Dr Majid Wakiani has developed a machine that can detect cancer cells in blood samples — separating the few larger cancer cells from billions of healthy blood cells.
The test can detect traces of any type of solid cancer (lung, breast, bowel, etc) by using a system that ‘spins out’ and isolates circulating tumour cells which are shed into the bloodstream from a solid tumour and can establish tumours elsewhere in the body — the mechanism by which cancer spreads through the body.
It can’t be used to detect blood cancers.
Trailblazing ... The machine that can detect cancer cells in blood developed by ClearBridge Biomedics in use in Brisbane. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
“Cancer cells are bigger and more flexible than normal blood cells and the machine filters the cells by size,” Dr Makiani said.
“We want to bring the cost of the test down to $50 so it is highly affordable and insurers would be willing to pay for it and you could do it two to three times a year,” he says.
Eventually patients would have a cancer detection test in much the same way they have check ups for cholesterol levels and blood sugar counts, he said.
It would enable doctors to catch cancer much earlier so treatment could commence before the cancer has spread, giving the patient a much greater chance of survival, Dr Wakiani said.
The test could also be used when treating cancer patients to check if they are using the right medication.
“If the number of cancer cells in your body drops in your blood it shows the chemotherapy is working,” he said.
If the number of cancer cells does not reduce doctors would be warned early to change to a more effective treatment.
New technology ... The microfluidic device is for cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
The blood test is now in clinical trials in Australia, the US and the UK and is in the process of being commercialised by Clearbridge BioMedics.
Doctors at Princess Alexandria Hospital in Brisbane are using the technology to detect breast and prostate cancer.
In Perth it is being used to detect melanoma.
The University of South Australia is testing the technology on colorectal cancer.
In Sydney the Liverpool Hospital’s Ingham Institute is preparing to use it to help detect gioblastoma and head and neck cancers.
It is hoped there will be enough clinical validation from these trials to get US Food and Drug Administration approval for the test within three years.
In the meantime Dr Wakiani says he is developing the technology into a treatment for cancer.
“We have shown the technology can handle a large volume of blood and we have shown we can clean it,” Dr Wakiani said.
“It would be a revolution in cancer treatment. You would keep filtering out the dangerous cells, prolonging the life of the patient.”
He now needs funding to test if the cancer cells can be washed from the blood of pigs and monkeys and later humans.
Revolutionary ... UNSW researcher Majid Warkiana wants to use his diagnostic technique to filter a patient’s entire system to remove those dangerous cells from a cancer patient’s entire blood system.Source:Supplied
If the filtering system could be scaled up, a cancer patient’s entire blood supply could potentially be similarly filtered, removing the dangerous cells and cycling the rest of the patient’s blood back into their system. It would be similar to dialysis treatment for kidney patients.
“What we’re doing here is trying to reduce the mortality of cancer, we could increase by five to six years a patient moving on to advanced cancer,” Dr Wakiami says.
It wouldn’t replace chemotherapy but it would be compliemtary therapy.
“We could eventually do the chemotherapy when the blood was out of the body, reducing the side effects,” he said.
Lisa Westphal says a blood test for cancer could have changed the course of her cancer detection and treatment.
“I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma with a tumour the size of a tennis ball in my chest cavity that had squashed my left lung by a third by the time they found it,” she said.
During her biopsy she had to be kept awake in case doctors pierced her lungs.
Each week her tumour was doubling in size and a simple blood test would have diagnosed her problem faster and with less risk, she says.
During her treatment, she required 5-6 Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans that cost $700 each to check if her treatment was working. They could have been replaced by a simple blood test.
The idea of a treatment similar to dialysis for cancer was also welcomed by Ms Westphal.
“The treatment was horrific on the body if ever there was a simpler way of having cancer removed from the body that would be a huge improvement for cancer patients,” she said.