It won’t be long before a brain tumor can be diagnosed without surgery, but instead by using ultrasound with a little help from some bubbles.
Historically the diagnosis of a brain tumor came via surgical removal of the mass and viewing it under a microscope.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a breakthrough that will allow a non-invasive way to diagnose brain tumors – through a blood test that detects tumor biomarkers.
The method allows the biomarkers to pass through the blood-brain barrier into the general circulation.
If the blood sample then shows the brain cancer biomarkers, there’s the diagnosis – without surgery.
This research leading to this amazing breakthrough was led by Eric C. Leuthardt, MD, a neurosurgeon, and Hong Chen, a biomedical engineer, and their team.
• The tumor-specific biomarkers are called messenger RNA (mRNA).
• Finally, a way to get them to pass through the blood-brain barrier has been discovered. The blood-brain barrier is nature’s way of preventing pathogens from reaching the brain.
But it also prevents medications from reaching the brain to treat tumors.
• However, researchers recently discovered a way to get drugs past the blood-brain barrier.
“I see a clear path for the clinical translation of this technique,” notes Chen in Scientific Reports, April 26, 2018.
“Blood-based liquid biopsies have been used in other cancers,” says Chen, an expert in ultrasound technology, “but not in the brain. Our proposed technique may make it possible to perform a blood test for brain cancer patients.”
How the Blood Test Works
It would show the amount of mRNA. Doctors could then glean specific information about the tumor.
The blood test’s reliability was confirmed, using focused ultrasound, on mice with glioblastoma. Focused ultrasound aims harmless ultrasonic energy to the tissue.
Think of the focusing as like how a magnifying glass concentrates sunlight to that tiny pinpoint that you may have used in childhood to burn ants to a crisp.
The next step was injecting microbubbles that, upon reaching the target (cancer mass), they popped, making tiny ruptures of the blood-brain barrier.
This allowed biomarkers from the suspicious mass to pass through the blood-brain barrier and get into the general circulation. This was then collected with a blood sample.
The information that’s contained in this blood sample can guide doctors in specific treatment plans.
Additionally, this groundbreaking discovery—which is still undergoing refinement—will potentially eliminate repeated surgical biopsies that are often done to monitor brain tumor treatment.