US researchers have developed a technique that uses non-invasive focused ultrasound and microbubbles to detect brain tumour biomarkers in blood samples.

The team from Washington University in St Louis (WUSTL) will offer the new approach as an alternative to existing invasive surgical biopsy.

Focused ultrasound employs ultrasonic energy to target deep body tissues without incisions or radiation.

After focusing the ultrasound on the tumour, researchers inject microbubbles that travel through the bloodstream and pop after reaching the target, leading to tiny ruptures in the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

This technique enables biomarkers from a brain tumour to pass through the BBB into the blood.

WUSTL School of Medicine radiation oncology assistant professor Hong Chen said: “Once the blood-brain barrier is open, physicians can deliver drugs to the brain tumour.

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“It enables them to perform molecular characterisations of the brain tumour from a blood draw and guide the choice of treatment for individual patients.”

“Physicians can also collect the blood and detect the expression level of biomarkers in the patient. It enables them to perform molecular characterisations of the brain tumour from a blood draw and guide the choice of treatment for individual patients.”

The test is designed to look for a tumour-specific biomarker called messenger RNA (mRNA) in the blood, allowing diagnosis and then treatment of cancer.

It is expected that the technique will allow personalised medicine, as well as long-term monitoring of brain cancer treatment response.

Chen added: “Meanwhile, variations within tumours pose a significant challenge to cancer biomarker research.

“Focused ultrasound can precisely target different locations of the tumour, thereby causing biomarkers to be released in a spatially localised manner and allow us to better understand the spatial variations of the tumour and develop better treatment.”

Researchers are also working towards integrating their technique with advanced genomic sequencing and bioinformatics for improved optimisation.