Our researchers are working on ways to detect lung cancer earlier and easier

Lung cancer throws up many challenges, and, as things stand, we have no ‘miracle cure’ to offer.

Yet if doctors can spot it early enough, there’s a strong chance they can offer curative treatment. Early detection really is the closest thing we have to a ‘silver bullet’.

Tom is living with lung cancer
We are currently funding research to develop a blood test which can help in the early detection of lung cancer

The problem is, this disease can be very difficult to detect. Many people will notice few, if any, symptoms until their lung cancer is quite well advanced. Too often this means diganosis only takes place at the hospital A&E department. We need to change this. Urgently.

Our charity is dedicated to making that change happen.

The lungs aren’t easy organs to access. Diagnosis often involves taking tissue samples by biopsy – a surgical procedure. So it would be a really significant step forward if we had a reliable, convenient method to recognise and diagnose lung cancer as early as possible.

Medical researchers all over the world are currently looking at ways to develop such tests – on blood or saliva samples, for example.

Right now, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is backing several research projects aimed at developing simple but accurate diagnostic tools. It’s early days, but progress is encouraging – and exciting.

"This project is showing exciting potential in identifying a minimally invasive test that we hope will assist in improving the early diagnosis of lung cancer."
Professor Sam Janes, University College London

Professor Sam Janes has worked with us for many years, and we have been proud to fund several of his research projects. Now Sam and his team at the ‘Lungs for Living’ laboratory at the Respiratory department at University College London are looking at ways to use infrared (IR) light to help identify lung cancer cells.

The team is evaluating a new technology, called IR spectroscopy, to detect changes in cells taken from inside the cheek (these are known as buccal cells).

This project expands on earlier work which we funded. Professor Janes and his team found that they could identify lung cancer from the biochemical changes detected when IR light was applied to buccal cells.

Now they’re expanding the concept, to test whether they can achieve the same results with different techniques that could be more easily translated into clinical practise.

The previous work used a very powerful light source (called a synchrotron). In the new project, buccal samples will be analysed by a globar light source, which is cheaper, and also a bench-top device. These techniques are more accessible and include a point-of-care test to enable a wider clinical application.

As Professor Janes says, “We are adapting our methods and specifically designing experiments for evaluating the point-of-care device, which has never been used before in this way.

“Promisingly, our initial experiments are suggesting that we can detect buccal biochemical changes using the less powerful devices. We are soon to start patient recruitment, following which we will be analysing samples at the Diamond facility in Harwell to compare techniques.

“This project is showing exciting potential in identifying a minimally invasive test that we hope will assist in improving the early diagnosis of lung cancer”.

Meanwhile, at the University of Liverpool, Dr Lakis Liloglou leads a research project seeking to confirm the viability of a blood biomarker they discovered. Dr Liloglou, too, is a long-standing colleague of the charity.

Tom is living with lung cancer
Dr Lakis Liloglou leads a research project seeking to confirm the viability of a blood biomarker they discovered

His new work builds on a pilot study that we also funded. Dr Liloglou’s team identified ‘chains’ of nucleic acids within blood that might be used to diagnose the presence of lung cancer. The challenge facing the Liverpool team now is to produce a larger body of accurate and statistically significant results. If they’re successful, the next step would be to go for a full clinical trial.

There’s much work still to be done, but Dr Liloglou has described the results of the pilot as being like “striking oil.”

As he says, “What we have done so far is a discovery – now we are working towards a clinical tool.”

When – not if – medical reserachers develop and refine a fully-functioning, accurate way to diagnose lung cancer early, we’ll be able treat more people much earlier.

In other words, we’ll be saving more lives. Now that’s a brighter outlook.

Help us to fund more research and save the lives of people diagnosed with lung cancer.

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