Scientists take first steps toward urine test for cancer

Scientists have discovered a metabolite never found in mammals before that could pave the way for a urine test to detect a type of liver cancer for the first time.

Currently, there is no definitive urine test used to diagnose any form of cancer, with most patients being diagnosed by surgery, ultrasound or blood tests, which usually requires a trip to the hospital or practice medical.

But a new urine test could be developed to detect the mutated form of liver cancer beta-catenin after researchers at Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow found a metabolite in mice.

Saverio Tardito, the project’s principal investigator, said the number of people with liver cancer is expected to increase and new tools to detect and treat it earlier are needed.

“We were excited to discover this new metabolite that had never been described before in mammals, which is a good candidate for diagnostic testing because it is specific to a particular type of liver cancer, can be easily detected in the liver. urine and could potentially be used as a marker to monitor tumor growth,” he said.

Saverio Tardito was the principal investigator of the project (Cancer Research UK/PA)

The test’s potential was discovered by a team exploring a protein known to be prevalent in liver cancer – glutamine synthetase.

By studying this enzyme in normal liver tissue in mice, the team discovered a new metabolite not previously identified in mammals that is produced by the enzyme.

It appeared at high levels in mice with a specific type of liver tumor, and levels increased as the tumor grew.

The Glasgow team that discovered the metabolite, called N5-methylglutamine, also showed that it appears in urine when this tumor-promoting mutation of the beta-catenin gene is present, meaning it could be used to identify patients with this specific type of cancer.

Dr Tardito said: “We are now planning further studies to investigate the earliness of onset of the metabolite in liver cancer, to identify how early a urine test might accurately diagnose the disease. reliable.”

Every year in the UK there are around 6,200 new cases of liver cancer, with around 610 of them in Scotland.

North of the border, liver cancer rates are above the UK average and around a quarter of liver cancer patients have the beta-catenin mutated form of the disease.

Diagnosis of liver cancer is often late, with many patients only being diagnosed when they are already receiving treatment for existing conditions such as cirrhosis or fatty liver disease.

But early, non-invasive testing could help catch the disease earlier, increase the effectiveness of existing treatments and spur the development of new therapies.

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