The Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has published a ground-breaking clinical study which demonstrates that high-grade brain tumours can be accurately detected by a simple blood test.
Published in the International Journal of Cancer, the clinical study undertaken at our Imperial Centre and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in partnership with Datar Genetics, proved the accuracy and specificity of a blood test that detects the presence of high-grade glial brain tumours from the cancerous cells that have broken away from the tumour and are circulating in the blood. The study proved that the technique successfully detects multiple grades and subtypes, including gliomas, astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas, glioblastoma (GBM) and more.
How will a blood test benefit patients?
While most masses within the brain are non-cancerous, with some requiring no immediate treatment and just a watch-and-wait approach, it is critical to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis to help inform treatment options for patients who have a high-grade (cancerous) brain tumour. Patients with high-grade tumours, such as GBM, need to start their treatment as soon as possible to help improve outcomes.
Until now, to get an accurate diagnosis of the type of brain tumour they may have patients must undergo extremely invasive brain surgery to remove part of the tumour (biopsy) for histopathological assessment, where the cells are viewed under the microscope to confirm the diagnosis.
Brain surgery is high risk and can cause pain, bleeding within the brain, brain swelling and infections, and in some cases death. For approximately 70% of patients with brain lesions (tumours), surgery is associated with an even higher risk of these complications. What’s more, surgery is impossible for some tumours which are located in inaccessible areas within the brain or because of their diffuse nature,
Therefore, a blood test which can accurately detect high-grade tumours is extremely exciting. It could mean that a sizeable population of people who have symptoms of a brain tumour and evidence of a mass on the brain, may not have to undergo surgery to determine their tumour type. Instead, they could be diagnosed with a simple blood test, which will not only reduce their risk of complications, but will save on resources and money, as well as avoiding delays in diagnosis and thus time to access treatment for those who need it.
The work has already attracted the attention of the body responsible for advancing public health in the US, the FDA, and hopes are now of a larger study here in the UK which, if successful, could mean patients with suspected high-grade tumours benefit from this breakthrough in as little as two years.
Dr Nelofer Syed, who leads our Centre at Imperial, said: "A non-invasive, inexpensive method for the early detection of brain tumours is critical for improvements in patient care. There is still some way to go, but this solution could help people where a brain biopsy or surgical resection of the tumour is not possible due to the location of the tumour or other constraints. Through this technology, a diagnosis of inaccessible tumours can become possible through a risk-free and patient-friendly blood test. We believe this could be a world-first as there are currently no non-invasive or non-radiological tests for this type of tumour."
For information on how this blood test works, read our Emerging Therapies blog, Blood test for brain tumours.
O'Neill K, Syed N, Crook T, et al. Profiling of circulating glial cells for accurate blood-based diagnosis of glial malignancies. Int J Cancer. 2023; 1-11. DOI: 10.1002/ijc.34827