Changing the way we diagnose prostate cancer
Institute for Biomedical Materials and Devices (IBMD), part of the ARC IDEAL Hub
Australian Research Council
Minomic International Ltd
In 2018, prostate cancer will make up nearly 24 per cent of all male cancer diagnoses, and will kill nearly 3500 men. Despite this, the standard test for prostate cancer is known for producing significant numbers of false positives, leading to over-diagnosis and over-treatment of the disease.
But that could all be about to change, thanks to researchers at UTS who are working to develop a next generation diagnostic test for the early detection of this disease. It’s part of the IDEAL Hub project funded by the Australian Research Council and led by UTS, which combines academic and industry expertise to drive the development of portable testing technologies for disease, drugs, food and environmental toxins.
The project is headed by the UTS Institute for Biomedical Materials and Devices (IBMD) and other UTS researchers in materials science, nanotechnology, biology and engineering, in partnership with biotech company Minomic International Ltd.
“Minomic has developed an antibody specifically for prostate cancer, not just for prostate specific antigen,”says Dr Olga Shimoni, who’s leading the IBMD contribution to the project.
“This is specifically for prostate cancer cells, so we’re using it to develop a test that will detect the presence of cancer much more precisely.”
The research uses fluorescent nanoparticles to detect prostate cancer biomarkers in blood and urine samples. Shimoni and her team are currently working to translate the lab-based test into a test that clinicians can perform and analyse at the point of care — that is, during patient consultations.
The research represents a dramatic departure from the standard test for prostate cancer diagnosis, called the prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. This blood test measures the level of PSA in the blood; an elevated reading can result in a patient being referred for a prostate biopsy, which is currently the only method that can return a definitive prostate cancer diagnosis.
But the PSA test’s lack of accuracy means that many men are referred for invasive, uncomfortable and risky biopsies that they may not actually need. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, 87 in 1000 men undergo an unnecessary biopsy procedure as a result of PSA testing and 28 of these men will experience a side effect as a result.
By contrast, Minomic has used its own proprietary antibodies, in combination with several others, to develop a blood test for prostate cancer that has an 80-85 per cent accuracy rate. The nanoparticle-based test, if successful, has the potential to replicate these results in a point-of-care setting, thereby reducing unnecessary biopsies, minimising the number of patients exposed to invasive procedures and saving significant health dollars at the same time.
“At the moment, screening is a difficult issue with the PSA test, because your PSA can be elevated for other reasons,” says Dr Brad Walsh, CEO Of Minomic, who has led Minomic’s partnership with UTS over the last five years.
“The research team is looking to innovate and bring the next generation of diagnostic products to the market.”
Photographer: Shane Lo