The widespread implementation of a blood test for breast cancer detection is one step closer to fruition as funding has been secured for a clinical study of the Alberta-developed technology.

On Thursday, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Alberta Innovates, and DynaLIFE announced a combined $1.2 million financial contribution to Syantra Inc., the University of Calgary spinoff company that created the non-invasive blood test, to further evaluate the technology.

“This has been a long day coming,” said Tina Rinker, a U of C professor of biomedical engineering who is the lead of the early cancer detection initiative at the U of C’s Charbonneau Cancer Institute.  “We’ve been working on this project for seven years so I’ve seen it from idea creation all the way to development of the product and, now, through the regulatory approval process and very close to implementation. It’s very exciting to be here today.”

Rinker says the research team was motivated to act by the promising results they encountered during their preliminary testing as the method proved to be 90 per cent accurate.  “When the initial studies came back and we discovered that we could actually detect the presence of breast cancer in patient samples, it all changed. From that point on, it was all about how can we get this out as fast as possible to be able to save lives.”

The blood testing would be used to supplement traditional techniques for breast cancer detection including mammography and, according to Rinker, would ‘detect cancer in situations where’s it not being detected very quickly by imaging techniques’.

Ellen Wright- Terrill, interim CEO of the Alberta Cancer Foundation, says it’s a dream to help progress such a transformational technique that will provide hope and impact so many lives.

“I think it’s something that we, as Albertans, should be very proud of,” said Wright-Terril. “There is incredible work that is going on in this province and it’s also not lost on me that we have an incredibly philanthropic province and we have donors who are willing to fund these kinds of initiatives so that we can make healthcare better and we can impact the lives of our women in Alberta.”

“Anytime you can offer a simple, fast solution to a patient who is potentially facing a diagnosis of cancer, that’s a game changer.”

Emma Weinhaupl, a participant in the clinical study, says she’s excited by the premise.

“It was great to be presented with the opportunity as a woman who has dense breasts and does not really enjoy the prospect of having her mammogram,” said Weinhaupl. “I think many woman can attest to the fact that it’s an invasive, stressful procedure.”

“When you have dense breasts you often walk away wondering ‘Did they capture everything? Is there something that was missed?’ and there’s really nothing you can do about that.”

Weinhaupl has been the recipient of a false-positive for breast cancer from a mammogram and was required to undergo additional screenings. “That in-between time is really stressful. If you layer the blood test on top of that mammogram screen, that really fills that gap and lays those concerns that you would have around ‘Did they catch everything?’.”

The blood test for breast cancer detection would be part of a regular bloodwork requisition and would be no different than the tests that are currently administered in labs.

Researchers are recruiting additional participants for the study. Women between the ages of 25 and 80 who have no history of cancer are encouraged to visit Identification of Breast Cancer from a Blood Sample

Pinker says, pending the successful results of the clinical studies, the blood test could be implemented within the healthcare system as early as the fall of 2020.

With files from CTV’s Stephanie Wiebe