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An Ingenious and Unique Technique for Cancer Screening–Safely Spot Cancer Early and Fast

With Government’s attempt to guide the development of “BioTech Industries and Precision Medicine,” the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) promotes research and technology in this targeted policy. The National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center (NSRRC) recently announced a successful demonstration of an emerging technique for fast cancer screening. This new non-destructive technique that detects abnormal growths in as little as 6 minutes. Using Infrared Wax Physisorption Kinetics (iR-WPK), abnormal glycans in tissue sections and cell samples are detected rapidly. Various types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, gastric cancer, oral cancer, ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, neuroendocrine tumor, and glioblastoma can be diagnosed through this method. This ingenious technique has now been patented in Taiwan, Japan, USA, and EU and a non-exclusive license, under this patent, has been granted to a third-party company in Taiwan for the purpose of the tech transfer.

The iR-WPK technique for cancer screening has entered clinical trial in several hospitals, including Kaohsiung Medical University Chung-Ho Memorial Hospital, Hsinchu Mackay Memorial Hospital, Chi Mei Medical Center in Tainan City, Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, and National Cheng Kung University Hospital and could soon be available for clinical practice.

Glycoconjugates, anchored on the human cell surface, play a crucial role in communicating between the cell and its surroundings. This glycan layer is altered during the growth of cancer cells, leading to cell dysfunctions that can eventually result in death. Detecting changes in the glycan layer can therefore be used as an early indication of cancerous growths.

Currently, the most common detection methods for cancer include immunofluorescence, immunohistochemistry, mass spectrometry, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent tests which can take several days to deliver results. These methods have time-consuming, complex pre-processing procedures. If the assay fails, the above destructive procedures would require the patient to return to the hospital to collect more cells for further tests. Besides, this simpler technique should have less false-positive or false-negative results.

According to Dr. Yao-Chang Lee, a NSRRC Scientist, the iR-WPK technique is the first cancer diagnosis method that uses the contrast agent formed by paraffin wax and beeswax to label altered glycans of glycoconjugates in cancer cells. Infrared synchrotron radiation is then employed to image the abnormal glycans binding with the contrast agent for detecting cancer cells in a non-destructive way. Carcinoma in situ and precancerous lesions can be diagnosed in 6 to 15 minutes. While those traditional diagnosis methods possess disadvantages, such as being time-consuming, requiring manual interpretation, preparing samples in a destructive way, this fast, automated digital imaging technique could be an alternative, which has potential to revolutionize the highly competitive smart medicine industry.

Furthermore, an analysis software program for pathological images, “iPathologist” has been developed by Dr. Lee, to assist pathologists in analyzing histopathological images obtained through the iR-WPK technique. It can quickly provide diagnosis during surgery so that a patient can be given optimal treatments in a timelier manner. Empowered by Big Data and AI in the near future, iPathologist will be able to recommend therapeutic strategies to physicians and predict prognosis in patients, as well as better providing precise, accurate and timely diagnosis, which ultimately will lead to reductions in medical costs.

In addition to cancer screening, the iR-WPK technique can also be employed in diagnosis and prognosis of chronic kidney disease. Taiwan has the dubious distinction of having more end-stage renal disease (ESRD) per capita than anywhere in the world, leading to heavy use of kidney dialysis, which costs the National Health Insurance System nearly NT$ 51.3 billion per year. The international research team led by Dr. Lee currently collaborates with Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital and Imperial College London on the iR-WPK technique for assessing immune nephritis and predicting prognosis in patients who received kidney transplant. Their research outcomes will have significant benefits for preventing chronic kidney disease among the population and sustaining Taiwan’s competitive advantages in the markets of preventive medicine and global medicine. Precision medicine, which focuses on disease diagnosis, disease prevention, health promotion and early treatment has become the corner stone for Taiwan to enter a partnership in the global biomedicine technology industry.