Low-cost, chip-based blood test for multiple myeloma may be safer and less painful alternative to bone biopsy

As if the pain of having and living through cancer wasn’t bad enough, diagnosing the disease is, in itself, an ordeal. But invasive biopsies may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to a low-cost, chip-based blood test developed by researchers at the University of Kansas (KU), according to a study published in Integrative Biology.

Cancer is not like most diseases. In most cases, doctors are able to make a diagnosis after confirming symptoms or performing a test or two. In cancer, physicians have to conduct a biopsy which, in certain types of cancer, can be very invasive and painful.

In blood cancers, for example, a biopsy means extracting a bone marrow sample by inserting a large bone biopsy needle through an incision. In certain cases, a larger incision could be made and a section of bone taken through surgery.

Fortunately, things are looking better. Researchers from KU have developed a low-cost, reliable blood test that provides the same information as a bone biopsy but with less pain and only a blood draw.

“For the last 10 years, we’ve been developing a blood-based test for a variety of cancer diseases – one of them is multiple myeloma,” said Steven Soper, professor of chemistry and mechanical engineering at KU.

The blood test uses a plastic chip the size of a credit card. It can tell the doctor various crucial details about the patient and the disease, such as the cancer stage and any sign of recurrence in the event of a remission. The technology is not new – there have been similar tests in the past but they tended to tag normal blood cells as myeloma cells, leading to highly inaccurate readings. In comparison, KU’s chips have been improved in terms of performance and precision, particularly for multiple myeloma.

“We get very few blood cells,” Soper said. “Only multiple myeloma cells. So, the ability for us to efficiently detect those cells is very high and thus, diagnose the disease at a more treatable stage.”

Soper’s team was able to circumvent another common misgiving about the technology – manufacturing. Similar chips have been considered too complicated and costly to produce. The KU researchers claimed that their technology using injection-molded plastic, the very same process used to make CDs and DVDs. This brings the cost down to just a few dollars per chip.

As of this year, the technology is going through testing and is exhibiting very promising results. Its creators claim it could be applied to other types of cancer as well. The current test was designed to detect multiple myeloma, but they have developed similar chips that can detect ovarian, prostate, colorectal, pancreatic, and breast cancers.

They hope that the technology would make screening for cancer a more routine procedure so that more people can obtain treatment before their condition has become difficult to address.

Fast facts about multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is one of the three main types of blood cancer besides leukemia and lymphoma. It affects white blood cells called plasma cells whose main function is to protect the body by microbial pathogens. In multiple myeloma, the cancer cells gather in the bone marrow. This is why its diagnosis usually requires the extraction of a little portion of the bone marrow.

Cancer impedes plasma cells from performing their job. Instead of fighting off germs, they produce abnormal proteins that cause many of the complications associated with the disease, including anemia, bone problems, and kidney impairment. Because the disease affects the body’s line of defense against disease, sufferers are also prone to infections. (Related: Science journal confirms eating turmeric cured myeloma cancer in 57-year-old woman.)

Multiple myeloma has no known specific cause, but its risk factors may include:

  • Age – Risks increase after the age of 60.
  • Sex – Males are more prone to the disease.
  • Race – Black people have a higher risk than white people do.
  • Family – Having a family member with the disease increases one’s chances, too.
  • MGU – Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance refers to a condition where abnormal proteins are found in one’s blood. Personal history of MGU increases the risk for multiple myeloma.

Check out other less painful methods of diagnosing cancer at AntiCancer.news.

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