Lung cancer soon diagnosed thanks to a simple blood test? New research work on early detection has been undertaken by specialists from the Nice University Hospital. Presented by 20 minutes at the beginning of 2020 and stopped short by the start of the health crisis, they will finally be able to resume two years later. At top speed.

Boosted by a recent opinion from the High Authority for Health (HAS) which “encourages the implementation of experiments” intended to better detect this disease which kills more than 33,000 people a year in France, Professor Paul Hofman and his team will relaunch a much larger study, they announced, confirming information from Nice morning.

A previous process “not sensitive enough”

In partnership with the National Cancer Institute and the Swedish-British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca, it will cover 2,600 people throughout the country and will allow the evaluation of a test that the researchers hope is “much more sensitive”. The previous one, tested between October 2015 and February 2017 on 614 volunteers from the Côte d’Azur, individuals at risk, smokers and suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), “was not good enough”, admits Professor Paul Hofman, questioned by 20 Minutes.

“If it was positive, we were sure there was cancer. On the other hand, some patients still developed the disease when it was negative, ”he specifies. Conclusion, this screening aimed at detecting circulating tumor cells, using a technique called isolation by epithelial tumor cell size (ISET), was ultimately “not suitable” according to an article published in August 2020 in the scientific journal The Lancet.

In search of “cancer biomarkers”

Since then, the Nice team has come a long way. Hand in hand with the MD Anderson cancer center, a state-of-the-art American establishment based in Houston, Texas. “With them, we have developed a more manageable, much cheaper test – around 40 euros instead of 450 euros for the previous one – and which should above all prove to be much more effective”, explains Paul Hofman again. “He is looking for cancer biomarkers, the signature of a protein secreted by circulating tumor cells,” he explains.

With these blood screenings, researchers want to do better and faster than radiological examinations alone. “The size of some nodules makes them very difficult to see. The aim of our tests is of course to be able to detect cancers as early as possible in order to have a better chance of treating them”, indicates the head of the Clinical and Experimental Pathology Laboratory at the Nice University Hospital.

Artificial intelligence put to work

The 2,600 candidates, who will be recruited in particular by a network of general practitioners, will have to take a blood sample and undergo a chest scan. To compare the results and allow cross-referencing of data. They will all be included in the algorithm of an artificial intelligence (AI) developed by mathematicians from the Inria center in Sophia-Antipolis, in the hope of further refining the diagnoses.

The experiment should be able to be launched around June, hopes Professor Paul Hofman, as soon as the ethics committee gives the green light. It will take two years to complete the panel and five years in total to complete the study. If its results are conclusive, the Nice team hopes to be able to achieve screening reimbursed by Social Security and therefore widely used. As is particularly that of colorectal cancer.