Detecting lung cancer: a world 1st from a Nice University Hospital / Inserm study


A simple blood test to detect lung cancer:  this world first has been achieved through the works of Professor Paul Hofman and his team at Nice University Hospital and Inserm (Nice Sophia Antipolis University) using a test that reveals the disease years before it is visible through imaging.

The discovery by Professor Hofman’s team goes global.

The study was published in October in the journal PLOS ONE.  It shows for the first time that it is possible to identify the signs of cancer, in the form of “sentinel” circulating cancer cells in patients at risk of developing lung cancer, several months and even years before the cancer develops. Even if it was simply the “reassurance” given to the patient, this would be huge, however this new technique also means gaining the precious months that would be lost while waiting for the scanner’s “verdict”. This warning plays a key role in early surgical intervention, thus making it possible to attempt to eradicate the cancer. This is a major step forward in the field of modern medicine: predictive, personalised and non-invasive.

The method was successfully tested on a group of 245 subjects without cancer.

Prof. Hofman’s team studied a group of 245 people without cancer, including 168 patients at risk of developing lung cancer because they had had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).  They were tested every year by ISET and low-dose CT scan. Paul Hofman and his team identified circulating cancer cells in 5 patients (3%) using the ISET test, while the CT scan did not show any nodules in the lungs. In these 5 patients, a nodule became detectable 1-4 years after the circulating cancer cells had been detected by ISET. They immediately underwent surgery and the pathological analysis of the nodule confirmed the diagnosis of lung cancer. Monitoring of the patients for a minimum of one year after surgery showed no sign of recurrence in the 5 patients.

A first stage of the test was validated after the trials, conducted over five years: this will allow early surgery on the diseased cells and prevent many recurrences. European funds will now be used to verify these encouraging results on a larger scale with 5,000 patients.

Early detection of lung cancer could improve the survival of millions of patients and lead to savings in healthcare.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), one-year survival among these patients is 44% and 5-year survival only 16%.  Only 15% of these cancers are currently diagnosed at a stage where the disease is localised. The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that lung cancer cost the healthcare system $12.1 billion in 2010.

COPD is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States and is mainly caused by smoking. Last April, an article by the prestigious New York Times reviewed all the innovative methods in predictive oncology and concluded that none of them were able to detect cancer prior to traditional imaging.

This challenge has now been overcome for the first time through the combined action of two French teams, that of Rarecels Diagnostics which developed the test and that of Professor Paul Hofman who applied the method and conducted this study.

International recognition for Cote d’Azur-based laboratories.

This advance, achieved in Nice, is a proud moment for the entire Cote d’Azur scientific community and its “biology, medicine and health” sector, with its 900 researchers.

Today, the Cote d’Azur has over 5,400 researchers and with Nice Sophia Antipolis University enjoys comprehensive, multi-disciplinary university supervision with around fifty research laboratories and some 1,300 permanent researchers. Thirty teams are involved in major research bodies such as CNRS, INSERM, Inria or the Atomic Energy Commission. From Nice to Sophia Antipolis, the Cote d’Azur features a concentration of world renowned research clusters, including 5 that, in 2012 were accredited as laboratories of excellence (labex) by the Future Investments Programme.

The Cote d’Azur’s scientific community is no stranger to international recognition and over the last twenty years has won more than one hundred prestigious awards.






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