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Scientists have developed the world’s first test for pancreatic cancer – using tiny WORMS that sniff out tumors

Scientists have developed the world’s first test for pancreatic cancer – using tiny WORMS that sniff out tumors

Scientists have developed the world’s first early test for pancreatic cancer – which uses worms to detect tumours.

According to its manufacturers, the test was – introduced this month Japan – is 100 percent accurate in detecting cancer and can detect it in the earliest stages.

Tokyo-based biotechnology company Hirotsu Bio Science hopes to bring the test to the US by next year.

Users mail a urine sample to the lab, which is added to a petri dish full of dozens of worms called nematodes, about one millimeter long.

They are known for their strong sense of smell, which they use in the wild to find their prey.

That makes the one-millimeter-long animals a powerful diagnostic tool, says company founder and CEO Takaaki Hirotsu, who has been researching them for 28 years.

A urine sample is added to a petri dish with dozens of tiny worms, which have been genetically modified to swim away from pancreatic cancer traces

The survival rate for pancreatic cancer decreases rapidly as time passes from initial diagnosis.  The overall five-year survival rate in America is 11 percent, according to Cancer.net

The survival rate for pancreatic cancer decreases rapidly as time passes from initial diagnosis. The overall five-year survival rate in America is 11 percent, according to Cancer.net

HOW DOES THE TEST WORK?

Users mail a urine sample to the lab, which is added to a petri dish full of dozens of worms called nematodes, about one millimeter long.

They are known for their strong sense of smell, which they use to search for their prey in the wild.

Scientists have genetically modified worms to swim away from pancreatic cancer tracks.

Test studies has shown to be more effective at detecting cancer tumors in urine than other widely used detection methods, such as using patients’ blood.

Hirotsu Bio launched its first N-NOSE test in January 2020, which it claimed showed whether users were at high risk of cancer.

About a quarter of a million people took the test, and 5 to 6 percent got high-risk readings.

Pancreatic test kits are sold directly to consumers, not to healthcare providers who refer patients for the test, and cost $505.

Hirotsu first focused on pancreatic cancer because it is difficult to diagnose and progresses very quickly.

There is also no single diagnostic test that can determine whether a person has pancreatic cancer.

The company plans to introduce a similar test for liver, cervical and breast cancer in the next few years.

But some doctors are skeptical of the results and the consumer-based approach.

Hirotsu genetically modified the worms so that they would swim away from the pancreatic cancer samples.

Test studies has been shown to be more effective in detecting bladder cancer tumors than other widely used detection methods, such as blood tests.

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest types because it is difficult to catch early due to the lack of symptoms, and when it is caught, it is usually too late.

Approximately 50,000 Americans die of pancreatic cancer each year, and only one in 10 people survive five years after diagnosis.

Because of the way it is sold directly to patients, the test does not need FDA approval to be available in the US.

Hirotsu said: ‘What is very important in early detection of cancer and such diseases is the ability to sense very small amounts.

‘And when it comes down to it, I don’t think machines stand a chance against the abilities of living organisms.’

Hirotsu Bio launched its first N-NOSE test in January 2020, which it claimed showed whether users were at high risk of cancer.

About a quarter of a million people took the test, and five to six percent got high-risk readings.

Pancreatic test kits are sold directly to consumers, not to healthcare providers who refer patients for the test, and cost $505.

Hirotsu first focused on pancreatic cancer because it is difficult to diagnose and progresses very quickly.

There is also no single diagnostic test that can determine whether a person has pancreatic cancer.

The company plans to introduce a similar test for liver, cervical and breast cancer in the next few years.

But some doctors are skeptical of the results and the consumer-based approach.

Masahiro Kami, head of the Medical Management Research Institute in Tokyo, warned that false positives could greatly outnumber actual cases of pancreatic cancer, making the results “unusable”.

Hirotsu claimed the test’s accuracy rivals other diagnostic tools and is intended as an early screening method so patients can access further testing and treatment without delay.

Hirotsu Bio Science Chief Technical Officer Eric Di Luccio examines nematodes in a petri dish at the company's laboratory in Fujisawa, Japan

Hirotsu Bio Science Chief Technical Officer Eric Di Luccio examines nematodes in a petri dish at the company’s laboratory in Fujisawa, Japan

TV commercials using caricatures of worms and pancreases are being used in Japan to crack tests and will help the company build its brand, Mr. Hirotsu said.

If the company can scale up, the high cost of the test could come down over time, he added.

Asked if he particularly likes worms, Mr Hirotsu said: ‘I feel like I have to say that I like nematodes and they’re cute, but that’s not the case at all.

‘Really, I just think of them as research materials and nothing more.’

WHAT IS PANCREATIC CANCER?

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest forms of the disease. About 95 percent of people who become infected die from it.

Joan Crawford, Patrick Swayze and Luciano Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer.

It is the fourth leading cancer killer in the United States. Every year around 10,000 people get pancreatic cancer in the UK and 50,000 in the US.

WHAT IS THE CAUSE?

It is caused by abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the pancreas – a large gland in the digestive system.

WHO IS AT GREATEST RISK?

Most cases (90 percent) are in people over 55 years old. About half of all new cases occur in people over the age of 75. One in 10 cases is attributed to genetics.

Other causes include age, smoking and other health conditions, including diabetes. About 80 percent of pancreatic cancer patients have some form of diabetes.

WHY IS IT SO DEADLY?

Pancreatic cancer usually shows no symptoms in the early stages, when it would be easier to control.

Sufferers tend to start developing symptoms – jaundice and abdominal pain – around stage 3 or 4, when it has likely already spread to other organs.

WHAT ARE THE SURVIVAL RATES?

For all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year survival rate is 20 percent. In five years, that rate drops to just nine percent.

If the cancer is caught at stage 1A, the five-year survival rate is about 14 percent and 12 percent for 1B.

In phase 2, those rates are seven and five percent, respectively. For stage three pancreatic cancer, only three percent of people will survive another five years.

By stage IV, the five-year survival rate drops to just one percent.

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?

The only effective treatment is to remove the pancreas. This has proved largely ineffective for those whose cancer has spread to other organs. In these cases, palliative care is advised to ease their pain at the end of life.



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