Reliable techniques for diagnosing cancer in the early, treatable, stages remain elusive even though various methods are continuously being devised and honed. Now a laser physicist has developed a new, low-cost approach based on the optical analysis of body fluids such as blood and urine.
With a granted Indian patent under its belt and a US patent pending, the developers are looking for partners to commercialise the technology. They are also awaiting regulatory approval to run a bigger trial in India.
Many groups of scientists are working to develop optical diagnostics using laser or light-induced fluorescence, light reflectance and Raman fingerprints. But so far no one has been successful in devising a model that can work in a hospital environment. Vadivel Masilamani, a laser physicist at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, claims to have devised a workable model that he has proved in a clinical trial conducted in the southern Indian town of Trichy earlier this year.
Explaining the logic behind his tool, Masilamani says transformation of healthy tissues into malignant cells is a “never a quantum jump”. Scientifically, it is a rather slow process. “It becomes metaplastic, dysplastic and then turns cancerous in situ. Then it spreads out, invades and infiltrates. It is like the British colonization in India,” he says. “In all these stages there are structural, conformational and compositional changes in the biomolecule that constitutes a cell.”
If scientists could track these changes, then cancer could be caught and stalled at an early stage. Masilamani’s technique relies on the optical identification of these changed cells in blood and urine.
The laser tool, called Masila’s Cancer Diagnostics, has been proved in tests carried out on over 700 healthy subjects and 2,000 cancer patients of different etiology. In the clinical trial carried out in Trichy 274 patients were screened and 5 ml blood and urine samples were analysed by optical diagnosis. A team of six physicians and oncologists evaluated the entire process.
The results were very encouraging: the diagnostic tool succeeded in discriminating cancer from non-cancer patients with 93 per cent accuracy, it showed 91 per cent accuracy in monitoring progression and regression in cancer patients, and it also detected the fingerprints of pre-malignant transformation in 23 previously undiagnosed cases.