Recently, researchers associated with the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow patented a method of analyzing blood samples to detect brain cancer. The researchers at ClinSpec Diagnostics Limited combined spectroscopy and AI algorithms to detect brain cancer based on blood biopsies. As reported by Psychology Today, The research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications, and according to the research team, the work represents a significant development in the utilization of clinical spectroscopy and AI.
The research presented in the study could make catching brain cancer much easier and simpler. Frequently occurring headaches may be a symptom of brain cancer, but even though headaches are very common, brain cancer is not. Clinicians need a better method of discerning which headaches are causes for concern and which are more benign. Doctors must be able to carry out some form of triage and reduce the amount of time and resources invested in diagnosing brain cancer with costly brain imaging scans. If a simple blood test could give clinicians reliable information that could help them diagnose cases of brain cancer, lives could be saved.
It was for this reason that the ClinSpec researchers aimed to develop an algorithm that would help doctors sort through the cases of possible brain cancer patients, distinguishing them from other causes of headaches.
One of the common methods of detecting diseases like cancer is liquid biopsy, doing biopsy on fluids of the body instead of tissue samples. The liquid biopsy market is swiftly growing, hitting an estimated $2.4 billion dollars in size according to market research from BC Research LLC. Liquid biopsy proves effective at detecting signs of cancer, as it is able to detect cell-free circulating tumor DNA, or ctDNA, and circulating tumor cells, or CRCs. However, the researchers from ClinSpec utilized a different method of analysis, doing spectroscopy on blood samples to find biochemical markers indicative of cancer.
Spectroscopy is the process of using electromagnetic radiation to find certain targeted chemical components. Light is split up into component electromagnetic frequencies, and these frequencies will react differently with different chemicals. The ClinSpec research team used infrared light to create representations of blood samples, a technique dubbed attenuated total reflection (ATR)-Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. The research team stated that the technique is a non-destructive, non-invasive technique that reliably creates a biochemical profile of a sample without the need to prepare the sample extensively. The representations of the blood samples could then be analyzed for aberrations, checked for possible signs of cancer.
In order to analyze the data, a support vector machine was used to create a classification model. Support vector machines are used for classification and regression analysis, and they operate by drawing decision boundaries, or lines that separate a dataset into multiple classes. The algorithm tries to maximize the distance between the dividing line and the data points on either side of the line, and the greater the distance the more confident the classifier is.
The research team stated that their method of analysis for the blood samples was able to effectively distinguish cancer samples from non-cancer samples. There was a sensitivity rate of 93.2% and a specificity rate of 92.8%. According to MDDI Online, The researchers report that when analyzing samples from a group of 104 different patients, their AI-assisted method was able to distinguish healthy patients from cancer around 86% of the time.
The researchers explained in the study:
“This work presents a step in the translation of ATR-FTIR spectroscopy into the clinic. This step towards high-throughput analysis has implications in the field of IR spectroscopy as well as the clinical environment. Analysis of blood serum using this technique would fit ideally in the clinical pathway as a triage tool for brain cancer.”