Colon cancer: new screening test

Researchers at the University of Fribourg have developed a test enabling the early detection of colorectal cancer by means of a blood test. The test was developed in collaboration with clinicians of the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and researchers of the nearby start-up company Diagnoplex. The test is to go into commercial production this year.

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This test, named COLOX, should facilitate screening for polyps and cancerous lesions of the intestine in the major proportion of the population and thus contribute to a reduction in colorectal cancer-related deaths. It was developed by the research group led by Prof. Curzio Rüegg, Professor of Pathology at the University of Fribourg, in collaboration with the group led by Prof. Gian Dorta at CHUV and researchers of the start-up company Diagnoplex in Lausanne. By means of a simple blood test, it enables the detection of 48% of polyps and 78% of colorectal cancers. It functions by detecting an inflammatory-like reaction of the body to polyps and cancers.

To achieve this, a gene expression analysis is undertaken on the white blood cells extracted from the blood sample taken from the patient. A computer program devised by Diagnoplex then analyses the data and establishes whether the patient has a colorectal lesion. If the test returns a positive result, a colonoscopy needs to be undertaken to confirm the diagnosis and, if necessary, to remove the polyp.

Making detection easier

Colorectal cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in Switzerland after breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. It is often curable when it is diagnosed at an early stage. In addition, the detection and removal of adenomateous polyps, benign lesions from which 90% of colorectal cancers develop, significantly reduces deaths due to colorectal cancer.

Screening for this cancer is recommended for people aged 50 and over. This is currently achieved by the detection of faecal occult blood and by optical colonoscopy. Unfortunately, only a third of the population regularly undergo these tests. COLOX will go into commercial production in Switzerland in 2014 and in Europe in 2015.

Link to the article:

Prof. Curzio Rüegg, Department of Medicine, 026 300 87 66, curzio.ruegg@unifr.ch

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