New Technology Making Cancer Biopsies More Informative and Less Invasive

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have recently created a system that can use minimally invasive biopsies to detect and classify cancer cells and determine the severity of the disease. This new technology, dubbed STAMP (Sequence-Topology Assembly for Multiplexed Profiling), allows scientists to obtain data regarding disease faster and in earlier stages, improving the timeliness of treatment administration. This work was featured in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

The biopsy remains one of the primary tools for physicians to diagnose cancers. Less invasive biopsies are preferred for various reasons; however, they can result in insufficient tissue samples. Further analysis of the cancer and a more certain diagnosis can only be made after operation, at which point this information can be used to guide treatment decisions.

A Technology Solution

By enabling earlier and more comprehensive data regarding the cancer, STAMP technology can overcome many of these current challenges. STAMP leverages programmable DNA barcodes to evaluate billions of protein markers in one test. This system not only evaluates the number of protein markers in a cell but their distribution as well.

Using breast cancer as its model, STAMP achieves a diagnostic accuracy of over 94%, which is comparable to that of the traditional tissue pathology test. In addition, STAMP provides clinical data that can currently be obtained only through post-surgery tissue analysis. This information is gathered using a fine needle aspiration biopsy, which is the least invasive form of biopsy currently available.

This work was carried out by a 10-person research team led by Assistant Professor Shao Huilin from the NUS Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (NUS iHealthtech). These researchers spent over two years developing the STAMP technology.

“Our STAMP technology leverages the unique properties of DNA to form 3D barcodes. These barcodes can be used to measure diverse protein markers as well as detect the markers’ specific locations in cells,” said Shao. “By mapping these marker distribution patterns in cells, STAMP can provide an early indication of disease aggressiveness. Current pathology techniques only measure a small subset of protein markers and require several days of extensive processing. In comparison, STAMP is a million times more sensitive, provides highly informative analysis from scarce samples, and can be completed in as little as two hours.”

Testing STAMP through Clinical Research

To evaluate the performance of their technology, Shao and colleagues recruited 69 breast cancer patients for a clinical study. Fine needle aspiration biopsies were collected from each of these patients and processed via STAMP technology. Traditional tissue pathology analyses were carried out on post-operative tissues as well to serve as a comparison.

The researchers found that the fine needle aspiration samples showed a high level of accuracy for over 94% of the cancer diagnoses and subtyping, putting it on par with the post-surgery evaluation. STAMP was also able to accurately identify the aggressiveness of the disease in these minimally invasive samples using its comprehensive protein analysis.

Going Forward

Shao’s team has filed its STAMP technology for a provisional patent. They are currently discussing with industrial partners to continue developing and commercializing their technology. STAMP is expected to be available within the next five years. The team hopes to expand the applications of STAMP to other forms of cancer, including malignancies of the lung, brain, and digestive system. They also feel it could apply to other samples, including blood and ascites.