Mobilizing Knowledge

Simple new test to prevent colon cancer

Every week about 423 Canadians are diagnosed colon cancer (CRC), and 175 die from it. Globally, CRC is one of the most common cancers. It's 90% preventable and treatable if detected early—but only about 39% are.

Current CRC screening uses a fecal-based test. Because it isn't 'patient friendly,' many don't complete it (e.g, only 14% of Albertans do). Moreover, the test's polyp detection accuracy is low (5-15%). But a new, inexpensive, simple and more accurate urine test could soon be available—made possible by UAlberta research and innovation. 

New diagnostic technology
An emerging field of medical science called metabolomics is the study of small molecules or biomarkers (called metabolites). Biomarkers that can indicate what is happening inside your body and help determine health, nutrition, infection and disease status.

UAlberta researchers, Richard Fedorak and Haili Wang, discovered these metabolites could detect colonic polyps (a precursor to colon cancer) more accurately than the fecal test. This led Fedorak and Wang to develop a urine test—a test that will increase patient compliance and improve polyp detection accuracy. "This is a lab test like others your doctor orders. You get it done and the results come back—you either have polyps or you don’t,” says Richard Fedorak. “If you do, you then get a colonoscopy to remove the polyps and preventing their progression to cancer.”

Commercialization: from lab to patients  
TEC Edmonton, UAlberta's tech transfer agent, helped take this research driven technology from the lab to doctors offices with the creation of Edmonton-based UAlberta biotech spin-off company Metabolomic Technologies. MTI has since developed two urine diagnostic tests based on Fedorak’s research: 

  • PolypDx – detects pre-cancerous polyps with over 70% accuracy (vs. fecal test's 5-15%).   
  • ColoDx® – 95% detection rate in a large clinical trial, accuracy on par with colonoscopies.

MTI recently celebrated its first commercial sale—a multi-million dollar eastern US licensing and distribution deal for PolypDx. The company is also exploring licensing and distribution in China. In the future, the company hopes to develop diagnostic tests for prostate and breast cancer, Celiac, colitis, Chohn's and irritable bowel, as well as acid reflux and gasrtic ulcers.  

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