PSC Support has awarded £50,000 to Professor Jesús Bañales and Dr Pedro Rodrigues towards developing a blood test to detect early bile duct cancer and to predict who is most at risk in people with PSC. In a huge international collaboration, this will involve the use of machine learning and the analysis of blood from over 300 blood samples.
Although bile duct cancer is rare, it is diagnosed at a point where effective treatment is difficult. Dr Bañales’ important work could lead to the first accurate and cost-effective blood test to confidently detect bile duct cancer in people with PSC. His research will help doctors to predict those most likely to develop this cancer. This would be ground-breaking and allow for closer monitoring and give those affected the chance to have early and more effective treatment.
People who have PSC are at risk of getting cancer of the bile ducts. Although the risk is small, the cancer is difficult to recognise in people with PSC because damage in the bile ducts caused by PSC looks very much like this cancer. Unfortunately, there is no single test that can accurately detect bile duct cancer in its very early stages.
In a recent pilot study, Professor Bañales’ research team has already identified a combination of promising proteins in the blood to accurately detect bile duct cancer, even in people with PSC. Now this must be internationally validated on a much bigger scale.
What will Professor Jesús Bañales and Dr Pedro Rodrigues do?
The team will analyse over 300 blood samples to evaluate the proteins identified in his pilot study. He will also investigate new markers to predict who is most at risk from developing bile duct cancer and to diagnose it. The samples will come from:
- Healthy volunteers
- People with PSC who have not developed bile duct cancer in at least a five-year period
- People with PSC who have later gone on to develop bile duct cancer
- People with both PSC and bile duct cancer
A huge international collaboration of scientists studying PSC and bile duct cancer will provide samples from volunteers in their clinics. Clinical features (such as symptoms reported by the patients) collected from all the volunteers as well as the biomarker data generated by this study will be used to build machine-learning models to enhance the predictive power of the final blood test.
Why is this study important?
Although rare, developing bile duct cancer is one of the biggest fears of people living with PSC. There is an urgent need to develop a readily available and robust test to confidently detect bile duct cancer in people with PSC and identify those at greatest risk.
If the results of Professor Bañales’ pilot study are successfully reproduced (validated) in this large-scale study, the impact for people with PSC would be life-changing. We hope that this work will lead to a new, readily available and accurate blood test that means bile duct cancer can be detected early enough to allow for effective treatment. People with PSC would be able to get on with their lives without the worry of the ‘ticking time bomb’ hanging over them.
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