Cancer kit enters market


A kit to test for cancer using "a single drop of blood" has been approved for China and the EU.

"The kit checks for human heat shock protein 90 alpha (Hsp90a), and is the first of its kind worldwide for diagnostic and therapeutic procedures," said Luo Yongzhang, a professor at the School of Life Sciences in Tsinghua University, who led the team developing the kit in 2009 and 2010.

Hsp90a is a molecular chaperone that belongs to the heat shock protein 90 family, which are essential to the survival of cancerous cells. The level of this substance in the blood can be used to diagnose cancer, predict a patient's response to therapy or determine whether cancer has returned.

"Through a single drop of blood we can test for the existence of Hsp90a which at an elevated level may suggest the presence of cancer," said Luo.

The kit will be used in hospitals. Results are returned in two hours, but require confirmation by doctors, Luo added.

Compared with other cancer tests such as CT (computed tomography), this method is easier and less expensive.

Approved in April, the kit's cost and price have not been revealed as the state suspended approval for medical devices in 2009, and the ban will not be be lifted until the end of the year.

Hsp90a was found to be an indicator of cancer (a tumor marker) by Luo and colleagues in 2009. A tumor marker is a substance found in body fluids or tissue that can be measured as a reference to help detect the presence of cancer. An elevated level of a tumor marker can indicate cancer.

In 2011, National Cancer Institute at the National Institution of Health in the United States listed 31 tumor markers that are currently in use. As of then, none had been discovered by Chinese scientists that were widely used in clinical practice.

On discovery of the diagnostic functions of Hsp90a, Luo's research team completed the first clinical trial in 2011, demonstrating that the Hsp90a level has positive correlation with lung cancer.

Luo believes the kit, which is easy to use and relatively inexpensive, will improve the cure rate and extend the lives of patients.

Luo expects the kit will be adopted for testing other cancers once current clinical trials prove successful.