A five-member consortium including staff from the ELKH Biological Research Centre (BRC) has researched the possibilities of early diagnosis, monitoring and personalized therapy for cancer in Szeged. In a four-year EU-funded project, the researchers identified new biomarker patterns, laid the groundwork for a new procedure, and created a prototype that would later facilitate the use of this procedure in the diagnosis of malignancies.
“In Hungary, diseases caused by malignant tumors are responsible for about 40,000 deaths a year, and the death rate per 100,000 people is the highest in Europe,” said Tibor Pankotai, a researcher at the Institute of Pathology at the University of Szeged.
The expert pointed out that the most effective way to treat cancer is if the tumor is diagnosed at an early stage and treatment begins almost immediately. Molecular biological methods offer the most effective solution to achieve early diagnosis.
Currently, state-of-the-art methodologies in molecular biology are based on the study of DNA from tumors, using the identification of one or more mutations in the sequence of genes important for the development and progression of cancer. Once these mutations have been identified, the researchers can obtain information about the responsible causes of changes in the process of cancer. Although these procedures represent cutting-edge technology, in many cases they do not provide a satisfactory response to the treatment as a whole. This is because researchers have little or no data on the mutational pattern that causes a given tumor to develop.
The main goal of the tender development was to improve the early diagnosis of tumors, thereby increasing the chances of patient recovery and reducing the treatment costs associated with cancer. The five-member consortium, whose members represent the highest level of IT and cancer research expertise and those directly involved in patient care (Enterprise Communications Kft., Delta Bio 2000 Kft., Hiperon Genetics Kft., University of Szeged, ELKH Biological Research Centre) identified new biomarker patterns, of which a prototype with existing diagnostic value in the preclinical phases was developed, and the potential for individualized cancer therapies based on these biomarkers was explored.
During development, a procedure based on databases of tumor banks was created that significantly helps the work of pathologists, oncologists and surgeons in interpreting the results from next-generation sequencing. Furthermore, this development has laid the foundations for a diagnostic procedure based on non-invasive sampling, about which some scientific articles have recently been published that have been well received in the international scientific world. A secondary task – in addition to developing the necessary infrastructure for industrial research – was the creation of procedures and a laboratory portfolio to support the further development of the methodology in order to aid the clinical-diagnostic application of this methodology. As a result, the cancer cell lines characterized by the research, the collected tumor and blood serum samples, also form the basis of the molecular and bioinformatics developments planned as a continuation of the project.
During the project, the new knowledge acquired as a result of the theoretical work, which can also be used in education, was incorporated into the portfolio of the consortium partners. New courses as well as scientific publications contribute significantly to the quality training of physicians, biologists, and bioinformatics. A system has also been set up to enable the new software solution of the research results and the map-like visualization and interpretation of the new generation results. The development resulted in a prototype that would later facilitate the diagnosis of malignancies and help identify and monitor malignant tumors at an early stage by introducing a minimally invasive procedure.