'Electronic tongue' could detect bladder cancer early
Researchers from Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), Health Research Institute Hospital La Fe (IIS La Fe) and Centre for Biomedic Research have developed a non-invasive method to help with the early detection and monitoring of bladder cancer. Described in the journals Cancers and Scientific Reports, the method is based on the use of electronic voltammetric tongues — a low-cost technology that could help detect the disease in its earliest stages with a small urine sample.
Bladder cancer is the fourth most common tumour in men, after lung, prostate and colorectal, and the fifth most common tumour in men in developed countries. It also has a high relapse rate, which is why, after the removal of the tumour, the patient will be added to a monitoring protocol, which would include medical visits and tests every three months.
Cystoscopies and urine cytology tests are currently the most frequently used tests for diagnosing and monitoring bladder cancer — but urine cytology tests have low sensitivity when detecting low-grade tumours, and cystoscopies are invasive, high-cost procedures whose result is operator-dependent. Furthermore, cytology tests have limitations in differentiating between inflammation, malign lesions and carcinomas — the latter being a tumour with a high risk of progression.
“There are several trials that have received the approval of the FDA — Food and Drug Administration of the United States — for their use in the diagnosis and monitoring of bladder cancer, but none of them improves the results of a cystoscopy,” said Javier Monreal, a doctoral student at UPV.
Electronic tongues, meanwhile, are analytical systems that offer information that can be linked to specific compounds present in a sample or to a quality of the studied sample. They allow for the classification of complex samples through the characterisation of their physicochemical parameters and have applications in the analysis of food, water, wine, explosives and biofluids — with the latter useful for disease detection.
The team’s research revealed the existence of differences in the metabolic profile of urine in patients with bladder cancer before and after surgery, observed by way of metabolomic techniques (UPLC-MS and NMR spectroscopy). In this context, the use of an electronic voltammetric tongue in this type of sample could entail a new method that is simple to use and has a low cost. Furthermore, the processing of signals can be carried out immediately with a PC, meaning the results are instantaneous.
“The preliminary results of this study, with a 75% accuracy rate, indicate that the shapes of current waveforms induced in urine through pulse voltammetry could allow, with an appropriate processing of the data, for a non-invasive diagnosis in the monitoring of patients with bladder cancer,” said UPV researcher M Carmen Martínez-Bisbal.
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