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Kyushu University-launched venture eyes cancer tests using worms by 2019

JIJI, Kyodo

Kyushu University-launched venture Hirotsu Bio Science Inc. and Hitachi Ltd. have said they will conduct joint research to put cancer tests using nematodes into practical use as early as 2019.

Hitachi will develop automatic analysis equipment for cancer detection utilizing the behavior of the worms that are drawn to the smell of urine from cancer sufferers, according to their joint announcement on Tuesday.

The companies aim to realize the practical use of the cancer detection method between late 2019 and early 2020. Tests under the method will not be covered by the public medical insurance program.

“In our clinical research, the accuracy (of the tests) was 90 percent for digestive organs, such as the stomach, large bowel and pancreas,” Hirotsu Bio Science President Takaaki Hirotsu, associate professor at Kyushu University, told a news conference in Tokyo.

“Early-stage cancer can also be detected with a high degree of accuracy at a low price,” Hirotsu said, adding the cost for each test was expected to be several thousand yen.

Nematodes feed on coliform bacteria and are easy to breed. The 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was given to a genetics study using worms.

According to Hirotsu, it will be judged as cancer if a majority of the 50 to 100 worms utilized in a test approach the urine sample in about 30 minutes.

With a keener sense of smell than dogs, nematodes are believed to be attracted to a substance unique to urine from people with cancer because it smells like what nematodes eat.

Hitachi’s automatic analysis equipment, which is under development, detects a positive cancer reading as the test plates become brighter when more worms gather on the plates.

Hirotsu Bio Science is looking to set up facilities that could conduct the cancer tests nationwide and will also establish one in Okinawa that could be used in other parts of Asia.

In 10 years, the cancer tests may be used by about 1.3 billion people worldwide a year, it said.