Thursday, 9 February, 2023
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HEALTH IS WEALTH

Urine test hope for early liver cancer diagnosis

Urine test hope for early liver cancer diagnosis

Scientists in Scotland have made a discovery that could lead to a urine test for liver cancer.

Staff at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow have identified a metabolite never found before in mammals which could indicate the presence of the disease.

There is currently no definitive urine test for any type of cancer.

Most patients are diagnosed through surgery, ultrasound scans or blood tests which require a trip to hospital.

The development could lead to a urine test being developed to detect the beta-catenin mutated form of liver cancer after the researchers discovered the metabolite in mice.

Dr Saverio Tardito, who is leading the project, said the number of people with liver cancer was expected to rise and new tools to detect and treat it earlier were needed.

"We were excited to discover this new metabolite which had never been described before in mammals," he said.

"It is a good candidate for diagnostic testing as it's specific to a particular type of liver cancer, can be easily detected in urine, and could potentially be used as a marker to monitor the growth of tumours."

The potential for the test was discovered by a team exploring a protein known to be prevalent in liver cancer - glutamine synthetase.

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

It appeared in high levels in mice with a specific type of liver tumour and the levels rose as the tumour grew.

 The metabolite, called N5-methylglutamine, also appeared in urine when the tumour-promoting mutation of the gene beta-catenin is present, meaning it could be used to identify patients with this specific type of cancer.

Dr Tardito said: "We now plan further studies to investigate how early in liver cancer the metabolite appears, to identify how early a urine test could reliably diagnose the disease."

'Diagnosis is often late'

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

Liver cancer rates are higher in Scotland than 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 diagnosed only when already receiving treatment for existing diseases 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 boost development of new therapies.   —BBC