Healthcare innovation

A droplet of blood can reveal the…

A droplet of blood can reveal the…

A droplet of blood can reveal the first signs that a cancer is developing in the body:Prof. R. N. Sharan, Director, Design Innovation Center at NEHU, ShillongShahid Akhter, editor, ETHealthworld, spoke to R. N. Sharan, Professor of Biochemistry & Director, Design Innovation Center at NEHU, Shillong , to know more about his recent patent titled “Biomonitoring device for detection and monitoring of cancer and a method thereof” that can play a lead role in early detection of cancer.

What is the current status of clinical cancer therapy (CT) in India and how can it be improved ?
Every individual, irrespective of her/his sensitivity or resistance, is administered a fixed ‘average’ dose and mode of a particular medicine. By experience, a clinician also knows that most people respond well to this dose/mode. However, some sensitive individuals might have been unknowingly ‘over-dosed’ and in contrast, resistant individuals may not respond to that dose/mode. So the most optimized clinical outcome of therapy dooes not happen in each case.

Now imagine a chemotherapeutic drug for treating cancer patients. Such ‘chemos’ are also usually quite expensive. Here, an ‘average dose’ therapy could have very serious consequences. It could become harmful to sensitive patients when over-dosed by the chemos (severe ‘side-effects’ and trauma) or to resistant patients when under-dosed (less cancer regression or relief from pain, etc.). In both the cases, optimum intended benefit of the chemotherapy would not be delivered to the suffering patients in spite of the chemotherapy. This yields poor clinical efficacy. The same would be true for other modes of cancer therapy also, e.g., radiotherapy, combined modality, etc. The scenario would drastically change if CT of cancer patients could shift from an ‘average’ therapy to ‘personalized & precise’ CT (PPCT) wherein each individual patient would be given only the most optimum dose of cancer therapeutic agent to get an optimum cancer regression, minimum side-effects, reduced expenses of the therapy/hospitalization and better quality of life of the patient.

How can the biomonitoring device that you developed detect and monitor cancer?
I have figured out a novel epigenetic bio-marker of human cancer and developed a non-radioactive, highly sensitive and inexpensive quantitative assay for the bio-marker in liquid biopsy of a droplet of blood drawn from fingertips (Indian patent no. 402137 titled “Biomonitoring device for detection and monitoring of cancer and a method thereof” dated 27th July 2022.) Method for a rapid test has also been developed. I have also figured out a stand-alone, self-contained test-kit to assay the biomarker. Design of a complete easy-to-self-use prototype test kit in a convenient diagnostic kit-format is ready, which is highly portable to remote locations and usable without trained man-power or test infrastructure.

Treating oncologists could use this prognostic biomarker and the biomonitoring test to quantitatively record patient response within hours and decide on required mid-course corrective measures for optimized clinical outcome of PPCT. Eventually, with sufficient population data, this biomarker and the biomonitoring kit would be used as a diagnostic method for early detection of cancer in the population (cancer screening).

What is the intended impact of the device?
Worldwide cancer accounts for 13% of all human deaths annually. GLOBOCAN projection of global burden of cancer is 30 million new patients and 16 million deaths by 2040. In India, which shares a significant global cancer burden, cancer is projected to rise dramatically in the same period with considerable regional variations. The Covid-pandemic and related dislocations have also pushed up the effective global burden of cancer. Ironically, cancer is one of the curable chronic diseases of humans, if detected in time and provided with appropriate medical interventions. At the same time, efficacy of clinical cancer therapy (CT) remains poor globally due to administration of ‘average’ cancer therapeutics to patients. The need of the hour is to move into the realm of ‘personalized and precise’ clinical cancer therapy (PPCT) protocol for significantly enhanced clinical efficacy by the existing therapeutics. My work intends to change this scenario in India and globally. Theoretically, application of my work could enhance the clinical efficacy of the existing therapeutics by up to 35%

What steps can be taken to reduce cancer burden in India?
Early detection of cancer is the only effective step that needs to be taken to reduce cancer burden in India, or for that matter, globally. Depending on how effectively it is done, I dare say, even more than 44% of cancer global death can be prevented. In my considered opinion, cancer is one of the curable chronic diseases of mankind if detected in time. Unfortunately, in case of cancer, once initiated it grows stealthily inside the body and makes its presence felt only at a very late stage when nothing much can be done. However, during this ‘stealth growth period’ of cancer, which is usually very long spanning sometimes to a decade or more, there are opportunities of detection. Unfortunately, since there is no physical discomfort in this period, no one likes to visit hospitals for cancer detection. This is a very humane quality. My work potentially provides an avenue for early detection of cancer at home using a droplet of blood from one’s own fingertip and utilizing the kit to get very first indications if a cancer is growing stealthily in the body.