The University of Birmingham has partnered with Nonacus, a company that develops non-invasive genetic testing devices, to produce a urine test for bladder cancer that could spare thousands of people invasive procedures.
The test will use Nonacus’ highly sensitive DNA-sensing technology to detect a set of unique DNA errors (mutations) found in the majority of bladder cancers identified by researchers funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council.
By combining the two, they hope to produce a test that can detect these unique mutations in a person’s urine, which could be a sign of bladder cancer.
Chris Sale, chief executive of Nonacus Ltd, said: “We expect this partnership to deliver better care and outcomes for patients by reducing the number of invasive procedures, providing earlier diagnosis and speeding up access to treatment for people with bladder cancer.”
Sparing people unnecessary procedures
Over 100,000 people a year in the UK are referred to hospital clinics that investigate for bladder cancer, usually after seeing blood in their urine (haematuria). If referred, the first stage of investigation is usually a cystoscopy, which involves inserting a camera into the bladder.
Of these 100,000 patients, around 1 in 8 are subsequently diagnosed with bladder cancer, normally after a second invasive procedure to extract a biopsy.
Dr Rik Bryan, director of the University of Birmingham’s Bladder Cancer Research Centre, said while blood visible in the urine should always be investigated, we need a highly sensitive and specific, non-invasive test that can rapidly determine those who need a biopsy and those who do not, and a urine test is the obvious place to start.
Detecting cancer in pee
There are two main ways for cancer to end up urine – through the kidneys or from the bladder and ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder). Urine tests could become a simple way to look for cancers that affect these areas, but they also have potential for diagnosing pancreatic cancer at an early stage – something that could be key to improving survival for the disease.
Find out more about urine tests in our blog.
Pinpointing tell-tale signs of bladder cancer
Detecting cancer DNA in urine can be tricky because there’s a lot of other DNA from normal tissues that it can hide amongst, which is why you need highly sensitive tests that can accurately detect small amounts of specific pieces of DNA.
This is what Nonacus is providing, having developed ways of accurately detecting DNA for various scenarios, such as pre-natal blood tests.
But what you also need to know is what DNA to look for, which is where the researchers at the University of Birmingham come in.
Bryan and his colleague, Dr Douglas Ward, led a team that analysed 23 genes from tumour samples collected from 956 newly diagnosed bladder patients who hadn’t received treatment yet. They identified 451 unique mutations that were present in over 96% of tumours.
The researchers also demonstrated that these mutations were identifiable in urine samples collected at the same time as tumour sampling.
By collaborating with Nonacus, the team are hoping to be able to take this research and turn it into a practical test to improve the way we detect bladder cancer. Nonacus hope to make the test available next year.
Tony Hickson, chief business officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “Having Nonacus on board to help transform promising findings in the lab into a new non-invasive test to diagnosis bladder cancer is a testament to how commercial collaborations have the potential to transform the lives of patients. We are looking forward to seeing the next steps as the test is developed and rolled out to the UK and beyond.”
Marta Soutar March 22, 2023
I would like to know what trails are currently being carried out for bowel cancer – Kras mutation.
Is there a national database, and to get the information and what are the steps to be accepted to participate in a trail.
Jacob Smith March 23, 2023
Cancer Research UK has a database of clinical trials, which includes many trials for different types of cancer, some of which are funded by us. You can access the database here. You can search by cancer type, and view trials that are currently recruiting, as well as those that have closed and have published results.
The only way to join most trials is for your doctor to contact a doctor involved with the trial. This is called a medical referral. You need to speak to your own doctor or cancer specialist if you see a trial on our database that you are interested in.
If you have any general questions about taking part in a trial, or if you want to talk about whether the trial is likely to be suitable for you. You can phone Cancer Research UK’s information nurses on 0808 800 4040 (freephone) 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
However, the information nurses are not directly involved with the trial, so they cannot help you join. Only a doctor or research nurse involved with the trial can do that. You can find more information on joining a clinical trial here
I hope that helps,
Jacob, Cancer Research UK
Joanna [email protected] March 19, 2023
I think that this is a brilliant step.i. The right direction and that it is great to get an industrial group on board with the testing!
Anaele Charles Chigozie March 15, 2023
I am a Microbiologist, with in-depth knowledge of Public Health. I so much like the work you are doing in test
Mrs MELINDA JONES February 13, 2023
My husband sadly died last year from secondary lung cancer which had spread from kidney cancer 9 years previously. It had spread to his breast bone, ribs and spine. He had regular CT scans that failed to see it. It would be marvellous for this not to happen to another family.
Geoffrey Fenner February 10, 2023
Liam Waldron January 19, 2023
It’s interesting to read about all of the research going on into cancer. Sometimes the research can seem a little remote or disconnected from donations we make as members of the public so I find this very interesting.
Jill December 24, 2021
A brilliant breakthrough if it works well
Valerie Ingram December 23, 2021
I would like to know what research is being carried out on mesothelioma as my husband died tragically yiu g from it and he didn’t work with asbestos
Harry Jenkins January 4, 2022
Thank you for getting in touch, and I’m very sorry to hear about your husband. We are continuing to learn more about the biology of mesothelioma and how to treat it. A clinical trial from last year has shown that an immunotherapy drug could improve survival for people with the disease, which you can read more about here: https://news.cancerresearchuk.org/2021/01/30/immunotherapy-improves-survival-for-people-with-aggressive-asbestos-linked-lung-cancer/
Harry, Cancer Research UK
Helen November 15, 2021
I would like to know more about “head & neck” cancer, in particular nose and eye.
Katie Roberts November 16, 2021
Thanks for your comment. We aim to cover a range of cancer types, here’s where you can find the latest on head and neck cancer.
Katie, Cancer Research UK
Marilyn Evans September 24, 2021
Having had bladder cancer, I wonder if this could be developed to prevent patients needing annual cystoscopies after treatment?
How sensitive would it be , because I never had any visible blood in my urine before diagnosis.
Mary Rensten September 18, 2021
I should like to know about any research that you are doing connected with stage four breast cancer.
Ian September 18, 2021
A brilliant breakthrough if it works well.
Karen FOXWELL September 12, 2021
I am pleased that all funds going to cancer research is taking mew steps forward for all types of cancer to be diagnosed. I have just done the shine walk with s group of friends and intend to this every year
Susan Kane August 24, 2021
I think that is fantastic progress and will benefit the patient with a quick and easy test
Susan Kane August 24, 2021
I think that is amazing progress and will benefit the patient with a quick and easy test
Anne August 19, 2021
I’d like to hear more about the research being done for Neuroendocrine cancer, you hardly ever hear about this cancer my husband died of 9 years ago.
Joanne August 12, 2021
I think this is brilliant news. To be able to do a wee test to find out if you have bladder cancer at the beginning is such a big step. Also if this can detect pancreatic cancer too. I hope this is rolled out as soon as possible.
Graham Dane August 11, 2021
This was a bit confusing. Particularly the sentence, “The test will combine Nonacus’ highly sensitive DNA-sensing technology with a set of unique DNA errors (mutations) found in the majority of bladder cancers identified by researchers”.
You’re not combining the technology eith the errors, are you? That doesn’t make sense.
Katie Roberts August 12, 2021
Thanks for your feedback, we’ve amended the line to make it clearer.
Katie, Cancer Research UK
Marjorie Ainscow August 11, 2021
This sounds very helpful. As a cancer survivor from breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer, I’m also interested in more research into brain tumours, which my 17 year old grandson died of .Also into treatment for leukaemia which my 50 year old daughter died of