Caldera Health improving prostate cancer diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis - or an all-clear - could one day soon come from a simple urine test.

New Zealand company Caldera Health aims to be the first to offer this, starting with prostate cancer.

Company managing director Graham Watt said the tools used today to diagnose cancerous abnormalities in the disease were imperfect - the uncomfortable prostate exam and painful biopsy being one, and the PSA-antigen blood test another.

"There's about a 15 to 20 per cent false positive rate [with the blood test], so you've got all these guys lining up for biopsies which are quite unnecessary. On the downside, not everyone produces PSA in the presence of cancer [leading to a false negative result].

"But it's the only test available, so it's still used, despite the deficiencies."

But Watt and his researchers are looking for other signals created by the body in response to prostate cancer that could be used to painlessly diagnose the malignancy.

They have found that the activity of certain genes changes after a man develops prostate cancer. Some genes become abnormally over-active, while others become less active, Watt said.

The useful thing for health researchers is that these changes in activity can now, with new technology, be spotted in biomarkers present throughout the body, including in the urine. The new diagnostic will target these biomarkers in a "pee-in-a-pot" test.

"We're actually diagnosing a disease. That's where we're different."

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Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in New Zealand men, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand. Through its "Blue September" month, the foundation is currently promoting awareness of the disease, which kills 600 Kiwi men annually.

Caldera Health also this month called for Kiwi men who will have a prostate biopsy in the near future to donate a small, unused portion of that biopsy to the company's research.

The biomarkers have showed up in stored prostate tissue, but these need to be double-checked against fresh material to confirm these same signals are seen, he said.

From there, the company would select the most prominent signals and begin testing men's urine for these biomarkers, Watt said. "The end game is the urine test ... a non-invasive, accurate test."

All going well, this test could be available for use by 2018. "Our intention is to eventually transition our technology to other cancers."

As the biomarkers changed as cancers progress through stage one to stage four, the urine test could also theoretically diagnose how far advanced the disease was, and if it was aggressive enough to warrant treatment, he said.

 - Stuff

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