COMPLEX sugars identified in the blood may enable early and accurate detection of prostate cancer which may help cure more men of the disease while reducing the effects of overtreatment.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK, have developed a test whereby glycans are identified in the blood to give an indication if cancer is present, in addition to how aggressive or advanced the cancer is. Glycans are a type of complex sugar attached to PSA that change markedly in the presence of cancer. Furthermore, different glycans are associated with many different types of cancers; a quality which led researchers to develop a technique to identify them based on this association. The researchers were able to achieve fast, specific, and highly accurate detection of glycans using a synthetic carbohydrate material to form a mould of the specific glycan. The material was fixed to a surface acting as a specific receptor to the glycan allowing for high specificity. Of the 56 sugars that can attach to a PSA molecule, four are associated with prostate cancer. “With this test, we’re able to identify those four with certainty,” explained Prof Paula Mendes, lead author of the article from the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering.
Previously, there was no available technology to identify glycans in this way. PSA levels can increase for several reasons, some of which may not be cancer-related, which leads to false-positive results in 50% of tests for prostate cancer. Not only might this result in high costs for healthcare systems, but more invasive, stressful testing for the patient. The development of this technology is paramount as current tests for may also provide an inaccurate diagnosis in 25% of men with prostate but who do not have increased PSA levels. The team of researchers aim to begin using the technology in laboratories on clinical samples later this year, with the goal of applying the technique for detection of other cancers. Dr David Montgomery, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer UK, London, UK, commented on the importance of the test diagnosing prostate cancer early: “While at an early stage, this research could make PSA a much more specific and accurate way not only to diagnose prostate cancer, but also to tell who needs urgent treatment and whose cancer is less aggressive and can safely be watched.”