FEB 27, 2017 2:57 PM PST

Lung Cancer Biomarkers are Under Your Nose, Literally

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

With the progress of breathalyzers, scientists are busy configuring these technologies for the diagnosis of cancer and other diseases. But, can they go one step further and use a only a nose swab to diagnose cancer? Researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine report yes, at least in lung cancer for now.

Publishing in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Boston researchers found that epithelial cells inside a patients’ nose bear the genetic signatures of lung cancer. As such, samples collected from a nasal swab or brush may be sufficient for doctors to diagnose this disease.

"Given that bronchial and nasal epithelial gene expressions are similarly altered by cigarette smoke exposure, we sought to determine in this study if cancer-associated gene expression might also be detectable in the more readily accessible nasal epithelium,” explained Dr. Avrum Spira, the study’s co-author.

The team collected nasal brushings from a group of patients who had a history of smoking, either currently or in the past. With the samples, the team used genetic microarray assays to detect mutations commonly associated with lung cancer.

"Our findings clearly demonstrate the existence of a cancer-associated airway field of injury that also can be measured in nasal epithelium. We find that nasal gene expression contains information about the presence of cancer that is independent of standard clinical risk factors, suggesting that nasal epithelial gene expression might aid in lung cancer detection. Moreover, the nasal samples can be collected non-invasively with little instrumentation or advanced training,” said Marc Lenburg, the study’s co-senior author.

"There is a clear and growing need to develop additional diagnostic approaches for evaluating pulmonary lesions to determine which patients should undergo CT surveillance or invasive biopsy," Dr. Spira said. “The ability to test for molecular changes in this 'field of injury' allows us to rule out the disease earlier without invasive procedures,” he added.

The team argues that such diagnostic test could dramatically reduce unnecessary and invasive procedures associated with lung cancer suspicions. In particular, many times lung lesions that are detected in X-rays turn out to be benign. But doctors must go through a battery of invasive tests before confirming this outcome. The nasal swab could bypass this step, saving time, money, and stress for doctors and patients, especially.

Of note, the nasal swab may only work in people who have a history of smoking. Non-smokers may still have to endure the invasive procedures until better diagnostic platforms are available. And as with emerging diagnostic technologies, a doctor’s expertise is still required to make the final call.

Additional sources: US News, Daily Mail UK

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 31, 2020
Cancer
Using Electric Fields to Treat Brain Cancer
JUL 31, 2020
Using Electric Fields to Treat Brain Cancer
One of the great things about research is its creativity, which can lead to interesting experiments, odd but impactful i ...
JUL 30, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
How Are DNA Testing Companies Helping the Fight Against COVID?
JUL 30, 2020
How Are DNA Testing Companies Helping the Fight Against COVID?
One of the most puzzling characteristics of coronavirus is how some people develop severe symptoms and die from the dise ...
AUG 03, 2020
Cancer
Improving Diagnostics in Breast Cancer
AUG 03, 2020
Improving Diagnostics in Breast Cancer
Diagnostics is one of the essential tools in a physician’s toolkit. A good diagnostic test can identify whether a ...
SEP 18, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Open Your Heart to the World's Smallest Diagnostic Probe
SEP 18, 2020
Open Your Heart to the World's Smallest Diagnostic Probe
Certain health conditions require doctors to be able to observe tissues and organs in order to tell what’s wrong. ...
OCT 01, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Presenting the World's Smallest Ultrasound Detector
OCT 01, 2020
Presenting the World's Smallest Ultrasound Detector
It’s smaller than a human cell, but the diminutive size of the newly-developed ultrasound detector is by no means ...
NOV 16, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
How the CRISPR-based COVID Microlab Can Intercept the Pandemic
NOV 16, 2020
How the CRISPR-based COVID Microlab Can Intercept the Pandemic
The demand for diagnostic technologies to track COVID-19 infections and control community spread of the disease has only ...
Loading Comments...