Covid lateral flow tests can spot the return of a brain tumour

Remember all those lateral flow tests we used to do during the Covid pandemic and ­occasionally still do? Well, that useful technology has a life beyond Covid – it can detect brain tumours.

A team at Nottingham Trent ­University is developing a simple test that patients use at home, similar to those used during the pandemic. The collaboration with Sheffield University will target aggressive recurring tumours that currently lead to almost 200,000 deaths a year globally.

While the recurrence of these cancers following initial treatment is often inevitable, the unpredictable timing makes them difficult to detect early, leading to a poor prognosis and failure of treatment. The researchers believe the ­technology would improve the lives of tens of thousands of people worldwide and significantly reduce the burden on healthcare systems by reducing the need for MRI scans and providing a cost-effective alternative to some clinic appointments.

The test works via a simple finger prick and new lateral flow tests that can spot molecules in the blood specific to a tumour and so give a very early indication of it returning. Initially the technology will be aimed at detecting glioblastoma (GBM), the most malignant form of brain tumour.

“Brain tumours are managed with the best available treatments when first diagnosed but, unfortunately, recurrence is a major problem and some come back very quickly and aggressively,” said Professor Philippe Wilson of Nottingham Trent. “It’s hard to imagine a medical technology so widely used and understood as the lateral flow test. This tech would provide regular, affordable disease monitoring for patients at home in an easy-to-use way. “We hope the work could be applied to other types of cancer too, helping to save millions of lives worldwide.”

Dr Ola Rominiyi, from Sheffield’s School of Medicine and Population Health, said: “Aggressive brain tumours such as glioblastoma virtually always come back after treatment, but detecting this recurrence at the earliest possible stage remains a ­challenge and an important priority for research highlighted by patients.

“Currently, patients often have follow-up MRI scans every three to six months, but successful development of a lateral flow test to detect brain cancer could make it possible to efficiently test for recurrence every week, so that more recurrent tumours are caught early, at a more treatable stage.”

Dr Megan Dowie, MRC head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine, said: “We are pleased to be supporting the team towards achieving more timely detection of brain tumour recurrence – a critical need for patients.” This is magnificent work.