A research team at Mahidol University in Thailand has developed a blood test that can detect clinically significant prostate cancer in high-risk patients.

According to study lead scientist Dr Sebastian Bhakdi, the test is capable of isolating and visualising tumour-associated circulating endothelial cells (tCEC) using a small, 10ml blood sample.

Bhakdi said: “Tumour-associated circulating endothelial cells are highly promising biomarkers for the detection of early-stage cancers because they are thought to derive directly from a tumour’s own blood vessels.

“Unfortunately, however, they are extremely rare and almost indiscernible from normal blood cells, which is why they have been considered undetectable in routine laboratories until now.”

Dr Bhakdi and his team worked with private partners to develop a series of new technologies operating at sub-zero temperatures, allowing the researchers to isolate tCEC from whole blood and visualise them under a microscope.

Bhakdi added that the tCEC-based screening assay is capable of routinely detecting very rare cells in standard blood samples.

The study also suggests that the test enables differentiation between men with and without clinically significant prostate cancer.

The tCEC test was not designed as a stand-alone assay, but as an add-on to prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening.

Dr Bhakdi noted that it was carried out as part of a prospectively blinded screening study conducted from 2016 to 2019, involving some 170 subjects.

The results indicate that tCEC testing is expected to avoid more than 70% of biopsies triggered by PSA readings in the so-called “diagnostic grey zone.”

A validation study covering more than 1,000 prostate cancer patients is currently being conducted at Mahidol University’s Siriraj Hospital in Thailand.