A simple new blood test could hugely increase the effectiveness of "smart" cancer treatments by easily showing how effective it is.
By detecting special chemical markers within the patient's blood a doctor can now see whether the treatment is working or not.
Thanks to its speed and ease of use the new technique will allow doctors to target a cancer with greater accuracy and thus hopefully increase the chances of destroying it.
Levels of the chemicals, known as “metabolites”, were measured in 41 trial patients with advanced cancers.
The mix of markers accurately indicated how well cancers were responding to the experimental drug pictilisib.
The drug specifically targets a molecular pathway called P13 kinase that is defective in a range of different cancers.
As cancers with defects in the pathway grow, they can cause levels of bloodstream metabolites to drop.
An increase in metabolites indicates that the drug is working.
Lead scientist Dr Florence Raynaud, from The Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: “We have shown that assessing a patient’s metabolites can be a quick and simple way of assessing whether a cancer drug is specifically hitting its intended target in the body.
“Our study is an important step in the development of new precision cancer therapies, and is the first to show that blood metabolites have real potential to monitor the effects of novel agents.
“Our method was developed specifically for pictilisib but could now be adapted to discover metabolite markers for other cancer treatments.”
The findings are reported in the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.
As well as monitoring the treatment there have been major steps forward in detecting the disease as well.
The new technology has been developed by Cambridge-based Owlstone Medical and uses a tiny microchip sensor which can measure the volatile organic compounds in the the patient’s’ exhaled breath.
Current techniques often involved using large, room-sized pieces of equipment and can take a long period of time to produce an accurate result.
Owlstone’s technology was initially designed for detecting explosive and toxic gases but has now been reprogrammed to hunt for the chemical markers of lung cancer.