Scientists at the University of Liverpool say they are developing a urine-based diagnostic test for prostate cancer that could mean that invasive procedures men currently undergo may eventually become a thing of the past. Their study (“The use of a gas chromatography sensor system combined with advanced statistical methods towards the diagnosis of urological malignancies”), published in the Journal of Breath Research, describes a special tool used to “smell” the cancer in men's urine.

Working in collaboration with the University of the West of England's (UWE Bristol) Urological Institute team at Southmead Hospital and Bristol Royal Infirmary, the pilot study included 155 men presenting to urology clinics. Of this group, 58 were diagnosed with prostate cancer, 24 with bladder cancer, and 73 with haematuria or poor stream without cancer. The results of the pilot study using the GC sensor system indicate that it is able to successfully identify different patterns of volatile compounds that allow classification of urine samples from patients with urological cancers.

Chris Probert, M.D., from the University of Liverpool's Institute of Translational Medicine, began work on this project with UWE Bristol when he was working in Bristol as a gastroenterologist with clinical and research interest in inflammatory bowel disease. The research team used a gas chromatography sensor system called Odoreader that was developed by a team led by Dr. Probert and Norman Ratcliffe, Ph.D.,  at UWE Bristol. The test involves inserting urine samples into the Odoreader that are then measured using algorithms developed by the research teams at the University of Liverpool and UWE Bristol.

“There is an urgent need to identify these cancers at an earlier stage when they are more treatable as the earlier a person is diagnosed the better,” said Dr. Probert. “After further sample testing the next step is to take this technology and put it into a user-friendly format. With help from industry partners we will be able to further develop the Odoreader, which will enable it to be used where it is needed most; at a patient's bedside, in a doctor's surgery, in a clinic or Walk-In Centre, providing fast, inexpensive, accurate results.”

There is currently no accurate test for prostate cancer, and the vagaries of the PSA test indicators can sometimes lead to unnecessary biopsies, resulting in psychological toll, risk of infection from the procedure, and even sometimes missing cancer cases,” added Dr. Ratcliff. “Our aim is to create a test that avoids this procedure at initial diagnosis by detecting cancer in a non-invasive way by smelling the disease in men's urine. A few years ago we did similar work to detect bladder cancer following a discovery that dogs could sniff out cancer. We have been using the Odoreader, which is like an electronic nose to sense the cancer.”

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