A simple blood test developed by Canberra researchers could hold the key to early intervention in stage IV aggressive cancers.
When Melanie Swan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, only invasive tissue samples could tell the ACT mother if the disease had metasticised. By the time she discovered it had spread to her bones, her prognosis was already terminal.
Sadly, Melanie passed away in 2016. But Sudha Rao at the University of Canberra has since developed a world-first test that allows oncologists a fast, non-invasive way to detect if a cancer has spread.
Professor Rao called the research “revolutionary” for metastatic or secondary cancer, which accounts for about 90 per cent of all cancer-related deaths.
Nearly a third of women who have had breast cancer will eventually develop metastatic cancer.
“This could stop cancer in its tracks," Professor Rao said.
The testing has already progressed to human trials on those with aggressive breast cancers, thanks in part to funds raised by Melanie Swan herself.
The $50,000 Melanie raised allowed Professor Rao to fast-track her test by at least six months.
A second test is now in development which could help doctors better target drug therapies, as the team further picks apart cancer cells and tests how a person's immune system could be harnessed to fight the disease.
“We’re giving oncologists multiple layers of information to help specific patients, in a context where time is always of the essence," Professor Rao said.
“The reason it is not used more widely ... is that it’s very expensive, and they don’t know who it is going to work for or not."
Metastic cancer has a survival rate of just 20 per cent over a five-year period. Melanie made it to her five years, and now her family are determined to continue on her legacy through renewed fundraising efforts for the research.
Father David Swan said Melanie had found a "kindred spirit" in Professor Rao, with both women determined to defeat the disease.
“Now that she’s passed passed away, we feel the baton has been passed to us," he said.
“We, as a family, hope that women will not have to go through the same trauma."
On Friday, Melanie's legacy will be formally folded into the university, as a new labratory is named in her honour. The facility will house a first-generation digital pathology machine able to detect the aggression of a cancer in real time.
In the coming months, Professor Rao hopes to raise ten million dollars in funding to take the new blood test worldwide.
With Sherryn Groch