Breakthrough: World's first urine test for liver cancer developed in Scotland

The technology provides a non-invasive method for the detection of the disease.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Diagnosis for liver cancer is currently invasive.jpg
Diagnosis for liver cancer is currently invasive.

sefa ozel/iStock 

Diagnosing cancer today is usually done via surgery, ultrasound scans, or blood tests. All of these methods are invasive and require a visit to a hospital or surgery.

This may soon change. A team of researchers at the Cancer Research U.K. Beatson Institute in Glasgow, Scotland, have conceived of a biomarker that may make urine tests for liver cancer possible, according to a report by The Herald published on Friday.

Tools for detecting liver cancer in desperate need

Lead researcher Dr. Saverio Tardito, of the Cancer Research U.K. Beatson Institute told The Herald: "The number of people with liver cancer is expected to rise, and we need new tools to find it and treat it earlier.

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

Tardito further added that the team plans more "studies to investigate how early in liver cancer the metabolite appears, to identify how early a urine test could reliably diagnose the disease."

About one-fourth of liver cancer patients have a form of the disease where tumor development is the result of a protein molecule known as beta-catenin.

Breakthrough: World's first urine test for liver cancer developed in Scotland
Liver cancer is on the rise.

The new urine test would detect this particular molecule leading to an effective indicator of liver cancer. The researchers stumbled on the molecule when studying a metabolite called N5-methylglutamine that appeared in high levels in mice with a specific type of liver tumor.

Although there are currently no other urine tests for cancer, there are many promising alternative tests in development.

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Alternative tests developed

In 2020, a new blood test was introduced that used samples from 4,000 people and could detect over 50 types of cancers, sometimes even before symptoms arise. 

Moreover, the test was accurate in detecting 12 of the most dangerous forms of cancer, including pancreatic cancer, which is usually only detectable at a late stage. 

That same year an international team of scientists developed a blood test that can detect five of the most common types of cancers four years before symptoms are picked up by current methods.

The test can currently find the following cancers: stomach, esophageal, colorectal, lung, and liver cancer. 

More impressively, earlier in 2022, researchers invented non-invasive contact lenses that could both detect cancer and potentially one day even cure it.

The groundbreaking world-first technology has thus far only been tried in lab cells but could pass to human trials as soon as it's proven to be safe. The device works by identifying cellular byproducts in tears called exosomes that are thought to indicate tumor growth somewhere in the body.