MULTAN-Being a pharmacy sophomore, Imran Qadir had dreamt a decade ago of inventing a new diagnosis process of conventional cancer. Today, he has come up with 'Qadir Test'-being seen by many as a holy grail in Oncology-to detect any kind of cancer at an early stage by undergoing a simple blood test.
The test may work as a "smoke detector" by tracing changes to the plasma lipid profile that occurs when cancer is about to hit, saving thousands of lives in the coming days. Scientists believe that an early detection boosts the chances of cure and survival if the cancer is targeted before its proliferation.
"Seeing your loved ones falling prey to the killer diseases like cancer and slipping through your hands leaves scars on your mind for the whole lifetime. I felt the agony my mother and aunt faced during the diagnostic process of cancer. The ordeal pushed me to invent the test," said Dr Imran Qadir, the inventor of the Qadir Test, and assistant professor at Institute of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology at Bahauddin Zakariya University (BZU).
The approach only takes a few hours using standard laboratory equipment for the analysis of plasma lipid profile (triglycerides, cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol) and a change in the profile may be used as marker for diagnosis of cancer.
Dr Qadir has laurels like the Best Young Research Scholar of the Year 2016 from Higher Education Commission and many research productivity awards from Pakistan Council for Science and Technology (PCST) to his credit.
A graduate from BZ University's Pharmacy Department, which became notoriously famous due to suspected San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, also a graduate of the same department, believes carcinogenesis, the initiation of cancer formation, may be the cause for decreased concentrations of blood lipids in cancerous patients.
"As the carcinogenesis proceeds, more cells are growing; more lipids are being used for their proliferation. Therefore, lower concentration of blood lipids, as compared to the normal person, could be utilised as marker of malignancy," he further explained.
The research to diagnose and cure the killer disease in its early stages is underway across the world. Researchers from Quest International University, Ipoh, Malaysia and Binghazi University, Libya have found relationship between serum lipids and breast cancer. Similarly, some companies like Guardant Health and Exosome Diagnostics have developed tests known as liquid biopsies that use a blood sample to replace or supplement a conventional biopsy.
Similarly, the MIT engineers have developed a pregnancy test-like diagnostic, using a urine sample to tell within minutes whether a person has cancer.
The WHO cancer statistics reveal 148,000 people are newly diagnosed with and 101,000 die of cancer in Pakistan every year. An estimate shows the number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024.
"Keeping in view the horrible state, the most important concern for treatment of cancer is its timely diagnosis. But the present diagnostic tests for cancer are expensive and are either inaccessible or hard to access by the poor, leading to delayed diagnosis and ultimately death of the cancer patients," points out Dr Qadir.
The Qadir Test was developed in four stages starting from 2006 and ending in January 2016. A number of prospective studies were carried out by the researcher by taking fasting blood samples of study subjects from all the major four types of cancers: carcinomas (cancers of epithelial cells), sarcomas (cancers of connective tissues), lymphomas (cancers of lymphoid tissues), and leukemias (cancers of leukocytes and their precursors).
"None of the patients had a history of thyroid disease, diabetes or other major illness that could affect lipid metabolism. The patients were not treated with any chemotherapy, radiation or surgery either before the sample collection that may affect plasma lipid levels," he said. The studies involved about 700 patients suffering from all four kinds of cancers and the results were published by two Canadian journals European Journal of Gynaecological Oncology and Journal of Applied Pharmacy, as well as well reputed local journals like Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Pakistan Paediatric0 Journal.
"However, larger scale studies are yet needed to confirm the reliability of the test before it is formally prescribed by the medics," he concluded.