Schulich School of Engineering
Nov. 12, 2021
Blood test for breast cancer now available in Calgary
A major step is being taken in improving breast cancer detection.
After years of research, development and testing, a blood test is now available in Calgary through locally-based research company Syantra, Inc.
An international prospective clinical study of the test began in May 2018, with hundreds of women being given a simple blood test along with their regular mammogram. And now, the non-invasive test has traveled the first part of the long road from the laboratory to the marketplace.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s actually here as we’ve learned so much through this process and working to get the test to market,” says Dr. Kristina Rinker, PhD, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Syantra, and a professor in the Centre for Bioengineering Research and Education and the departments of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the Schulich School of Engineering, as well as Physiology and Pharmacology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). “It’s a very exciting time.”
Unique biomarkers lead to big results
Dr. Kenneth Fuh, PhD’17, Syantra co-founder, UCalgary biomedical engineering alumnus, and lead scientist, worked closely with the team to evaluate breast cancer development and progression. “Our preliminary findings revealed a unique biomarker signature for detecting breast cancer using a small amount of blood,” Fuh says.
Researchers worked with partners in South Korea to test a proof of concept of the Syantra DX Breast Cancer Test through what Fuh calls a “retrospective evaluation” in 2017.
In March 2018, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates and DynaLIFE Medical Labs awarded a combined $1.2-million financial contribution under the Alberta Small Business Innovation and Research Initiative Program to help move the project forward.
Getting the word out
Rinker says a lot has happened over the past few years to get the test to market from both a technical and business perspective.
“There is an incredible number of things to do,” says Rinker, who is also on the board of directors of the not-for-profit, BiohubX. “Learning how to ship things around the world, getting things in a timely manner, working with people from different cultures, and then getting a test that works for not only the local community but a broad distribution of people.”
When it comes to getting the test locally, Rinker says patients need a signed requisition from their doctor, as is the case with any other lab test.
“We’re engaging with clinicians in the community, sending out information packages to get the word out to them as well as those who might be interested in the test,” she says.
Once the blood is drawn, Fuh says it is shipped to Syantra’s laboratory, where processing is done and a test report is generated.
“This report, consisting of test results revealing the presence or absence of our breast cancer signal and all performed quality-control checks, is sent to the ordering physician,” he says.
Making a difference in the community
Early detection of any kind of cancer is paramount, and those working with cancer patients every day believe the new test is a game-changer.
“Expanding that scope and that reach for Albertans will be so important,” says Christy Holtby, vice-president of philanthropy at the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
The blood test outcome will provide a clear indication of who might need an immediate biopsy and who should be watched.
Holtby adds it’s been inspiring for the foundation and its donors who supported this work to witness the innovative research in action.
“The research Dr. Rinker did at CSM’s Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute to set the stage for this non-invasive blood test and subsequent clinical testing was very promising and we’re seeing it translate to real impact,” she says. “The fact that it’s done here in Alberta makes it even more exciting.
The work goes on
Fuh says the success of the test opens the door for other opportunities. “We are keen on applying a similar methodology in developing more accurate and accessible tests to stratify breast cancer patients and monitor disease recurrence,” he says. “These tests have the potential of improving patient-treatment outcomes and standard of care.”
While there is also a potential to look at early testing for other cancers like lung, colon and pancreatic, Rinker adds it will take time to look at the clinical data from these future tests and bring findings to the community.
“We want to know who the test worked well for and what the next developments of the test could be to make it applicable to more people,” she says. “We will continue to innovate, as innovation is critical in our research labs at the University of Calgary.
The Calgary Cancer Centre Campaign is on a mission to OWN.CANCER by raising $250 million in support of improved research, treatment and care at Calgary’s new world-class cancer centre. This game-changing initiative is backed by three trusted community institutions: Alberta Health Services, Canada’s first and largest fully integrated provincial health system; the University of Calgary, a globally recognized leader in medical research and home to tomorrow’s health-care professionals; and the Alberta Cancer Foundation, the official fundraising partner for all 17 cancer care centres across the province. Currently under construction, the Calgary Cancer Centre will open its doors in 2023 as the largest, most comprehensive cancer centre in Canada. To donate or learn more, please visit owncancer.ca.