A urine test has been developed to detect tumors and metastases that can also determine their location. In the long term, this process could be used for conventional screening or to detect possible recurrences of cancers.
Tests to detect cancer are usually based on medical imaging, such as mammography, CT scans, and procedures such as colonoscopies. Recently, tests to detect cancer through blood tests have also been developed. But researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have just developed a new detection tool that goes much further: it allows a tumor or metastasis to be detected through a simple urine test thanks to an imaging agent that subjects ingest. This test can thus be used to detect cancer anywhere in the body.
Visualizing where tumors are located
“This is a really broad sensor intended to respond to both primary tumors and their metastases. It can trigger a urinary signal and also allow us to visualize where the tumors are,” explains Sangeeta Bhatia, one of the study’s authors. Metastases are formed by cancer cells from the primary tumor. Metastatic cancer thus occurs when cancer that originally originated in one area spreads to another part of the body. For example, if colorectal cancer spreads to the liver, it is metastatic colorectal cancer and not liver cancer. This is the type of colon cancer that the authors studied. They showed that their diagnostic nanoparticles can be used to track the progression of colon cancer, including the spread of metastatic tumors to the lungs and liver.
A test to check the effectiveness of a treatment
The principle of the test is that the urine test detects cancer using these nanoparticles that are coated with peptides . When these particles encounter a tumor, the peptides are cleaved and then excreted in the urine and if they are detected, the person has cancer. But in addition to this result, researchers have developed an imaging tool that can show the exact location of the tumor and any metastases, especially if they have spread to organs other than the original organ. In other words, the patient ingests this imaging agent before their urinalysis and the result will show where the detected tumors and metastases are located. In their clinical trial, the researchers tested the device on mice with metastatic colon cancer. The mice were treated with chemotherapy and the imaging device and urine test allowed the researchers to track the response of the tumors to the treatment and the progression of cancer. A final advantage is that the technology used in the test can detect tumors and metastases that are much smaller than in other commonly used medical imaging techniques.
Better detection of cancer
Researchers, therefore, believe that this test will eventually make it possible to assess the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments by analyzing disease progression in a more accurate and less invasive way. It could also be a very useful tool to monitor any return of cancer. Finally, they also hope that it can be used for conventional screening for certain cancers. We can reach patients who today do not have access to expensive screening infrastructure,” says Sangeeta Bhatia. Every year, you can take a urine test as part of a general health checkup. Only if the urine sample is positive will an imaging study be done and the location of the tumor(s) or metastases will be determined. We still have a lot of work to do, but this is our long-term goal.”