SCIENTISTS in the region who are developing a new test for prostate cancer have been given a funding boost to help them advance the technology.
Durham University spin-out FScan has received £100,000 in investment from the Three Pillars Fund, which was set up to back early stage industries in the energy, health and process industries.
The firm is in the process of developing a rapid test for prostate cancer – the most common cancer which kills around 10,000 men each year.
The test, developed by a team led by Prof David Parker, works by shining a light through a fluid sample from the prostate gland to determine concentration of citrate – a sign of the presence of the disease.
It could provide a basis for a speedier means of detecting prostate cancer and has the potential to be much more reliable and precise than the current PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) blood test.
The test developed in Durham measures metabolic changes that occur in the very early stages of the disease.
FScan CEO Kishor Mistry said: "Our test is not only more selective and specific for prostate cancer compared to PSA, but it has the potential to differentiate between the cancer and other conditions such as prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia, something the PSA tests are not able to do.
"Prof Parker and his team are world-leading experts in lanthanide chemistry and have developed chemical complexes that, when illuminated, can be used as probes in samples of prostate fluid to determine citrate levels.
"It’s been a complex process to develop but it could be carried out in three minutes once the prostatic fluid sample has been obtained, allowing doctors to begin treatment quickly. "
Three Pillars Fund manager Amanda McMurray said the technique developed by FScan showed huge promise as a clinical tool.
She said: "It could transform the diagnosis of prostate cancer by making it possible to identify the disease quickly in its early and treatable stages.
"It’s exciting that this technology is being pioneered here in the North East and I’m delighted that the investment from the Three Pillars Fund will help to develop it even further."
Initial trials of FScan’s test have been successful and, with Three Pillars Fund backing, the company hopes to be able to refine the technique, carry out tests on larger samples and attract additional finance from backers.
This application of its technology alone has huge potential in the UK and other countries, particularly the USA, where 24 million PSA tests are carried out every year and where there has recently been an urgent call to action to find better biomarkers and diagnostics for prostate cancer.
In the longer term, the company hopes to develop other applications using the same technology that could be used in the diagnosis of other medical conditions.