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Funding boost for innovative cancer test



An innovative test to help detect the early stages of oesophageal cancer, has won £3.4m in grant funding.

It means more diagnostic tests can be offered to NHS patients in primary and community care settings, diverting them away from lengthy hospital endoscopy waiting lists.

One of the biggest grants of its kind, the multi-million pound funding boost will allow UK-based Cyted to run additional clinics to identify patients suffering from Barrett’s oesophagus, a potentially serious complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can develop into cancer of the lower gullet.

Chronic reflux patients benefiting from the programme will be able to take a quick and easy test in under 10 minutes in community settings, like a GP surgery, to diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus symptoms.

The non-invasive Cytosponge test is shaped like a small pill with a thread attached. Swallowed by patients, once in the stomach the capsule dissolves, releasing a small spongy ball about the size of a 50p coin. A health professional pulls the string to bring the soft ball back up the throat, where it collects cells from the oesophagus lining.

Clinicians at Cyted’s laboratory then analyse patient samples, with the help of AI technology.

Patients with signs of early cancer can then be prioritised for endoscopes, making it easier to triage waiting lists and reduce the pressure on such services. 

There has, to date, been no easy way to identify Barrett’s oesophagus patients, The condition typically affects middle-aged and older adults with its prevalence estimated to be as high as 400 per 100,000 individuals globally. It is more common in men than women.

According to Cyted, nine in 10 sufferers are unaware they have Barrett’s oesophagus. Oesophageal cancer is not normally diagnosed until a late stage.

The significant injection of funds comes from the NHS Cancer Programme, supported by NHS England’s Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare (SBRI) and Accelerated Access Collaborative, and is aimed at enabling the enhancement of efficiency, coordination and communication throughout the care pathway for people living with chronic reflux.

This latest round of money follows a £500,000 SBRI grant awarded last year to Cyted to pilot its test technology in community care settings in the North West of England. 

Both grants were awarded as part of Cambridge-headquartered Cyted’s work to bring more testing into the community to increase accessibility for people living with chronic reflux and Barrett’s oesophagus.

Cyted CEO Marcel Gehrung with the Cytosponge

Cyted’s diagnostic platform was pioneered by Rebecca Fitzgerald, professor of Cancer Prevention at the University of Cambridge. It began as a germ of an idea more than 20 years ago when she was working in London and overheard a colleague say a bottle brush was needed to gather medical information from the oesophagus, which is a long, narrow muscular tube between 25cm-33cm long and about 2cm across at its smallest part.

She put her mind to thinking of a way cells could be collected from the tube, through which food passes from the throat to the stomach. Early on she realised it would have to be combined with a laboratory test to find abnormal pre-cancerous cells. So it was that the notion for the Cytosponge test was born.

It brings together a non-invasive test with data-driven biomarkers for early detection and risk stratification of cancers and inflammatory diseases.

Its first application is in oesophageal cancer – the sixth leading cause of cancer-related death worldwide.

But the developers say the technology can be applied to other diseases, including prostate, skin and bowel cancers. By identifying the signs of disease and allowing clinicians to stop it in its tracks, Cyted believes tens of thousands of lives could be saved every year,

The company has already delivered over 15,000 tests in more than 80 hospitals to diagnose and monitor patients who are suffering from Barrett’s oesophagus. 

Across the world, late diagnoses and long waiting times for endoscopies can lead to poor survival rates. Cyted’s technology helps to identify cancer in its earliest stages when treatment can be more effective.

Cyted CEO Marcel Gehrung, a scientist and serial entrepreneur, said the funding is “great news for Cyted and for patients. It means we can get more quick, efficient tests out into communities, and make sure people can receive swift diagnoses without having to come into hospital. We are building on a long partnership with the NHS and looking forward to expanding that work.

“This substantial grant underlines the global potential of Cyted’s diagnostic technology. Worldwide, oesophageal cancer is a major global health issue and our non-invasive test can make a significant contribution to shortening waiting times and saving lives.”



Tai chi outperforms conventional exercise for seniors



New findings from 12 studies involving 2,901 participants have demonstrated that tai chi outperforms conventional exercise in improving mobility and balance in seniors.

While tai chi is understood to be beneficial for functional mobility and balance in older adults, such benefits are not well understood due to large variance in research study protocols and observations.

This new review and analysis has now shown that tai chi can induce greater improvement in functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults compared to conventional exercise.

The findings showed the following performance results:

  • The time to complete 50-foot walking was 1.84 seconds faster. 
  • The time to maintain a one-leg stance was 6 seconds longer when eyes were open and 1.65 seconds longer when eyes were closed. 
  • Individuals improved their timed-up-and-go test performance by 0.18 points, indicating quicker standing, walking, and sitting.
  • Individuals taking the functional reach test showed significant improvement with a standardised mean difference of 0.7, suggesting a noteworthy positive impact on the ability to reach and perform daily activities.

Secondary analyses revealed that the use of tai chi with relatively short duration of less than 20 weeks, low total time of less than 24 total hours, and/or focusing on the Yang-style of this ancient form of Chinese martial arts were particularly beneficial for functional mobility and balance as compared to conventional exercise.

“This systematic literature review and meta-analysis are exciting because they provide strong evidence that tai chi is a more efficient strategy to improve functional mobility and balance in relatively healthy older adults, as compared to conventional exercise,” said Brad Manor, Ph.D., director of the Mobility and Falls Program at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Hinda and Arthur Marcus Institute for Aging Research, and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This research suggests that tai chi should be carefully considered in future studies and routines of rehabilitative programs for balance and mobility in older adults,” said Bao Dapeng, professor at Beijing Sport University.

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New standards for biomarkers of ageing



A paper has put forward a new framework for standardising the development and validation of biomarkers of ageing to better predict longevity and quality of life.

Led by Harvard researchers, the team has zeroed in on biomarkers of ageing using omic data from population-based studies. 

The team included ageing and longevity expert Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, founder and CEO of AI-driven drug discovery company Insilico Medicine, and the findings appeared in Nature Medicine

Ageing is associated with a number of biological changes including increased molecular and cellular damage, however, researchers do not yet have a standardised means to evaluate and validate biomarkers related to ageing. 

In order to create those standards as well as actionable clinical tools, the team analysed population-based cohort studies built on omic data (data related to biological molecules which can include proteomics, transcriptomics, genomics, and epigenomics) of blood-based biomarkers of ageing. The researchers then compared the predictive strength of different biomarkers, including study design and data collection approaches, and looked at how these biomarkers presented in different populations. 

In order to better assess the impact of ageing using biomarkers, the researchers found that clinicians needed to expand their focus to consider not only mortality as an outcome, but also how biomarkers of aging are associated with numerous other health outcomes, including functional decline, frailty, chronic disease, and disability. They also call for the standardisation of omic data to improve reliability. 

“Omics and biomarkers harmonisation efforts, such as the Biolearn project, are instrumental in validation of biomarkers of aging” said co-first author Mahdi Moqri, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

Biolearn is an open-source project for biomarkers of aging and is helping to harmonise existing ageing biomarkers, unify public datasets, and provide computational methodologies.

The team also emphasised the importance of continued collaborations among research groups on “large-scale, longitudinal studies that can track long-term physiological changes and responses to therapeutics in diverse populations”, and that further work is required to understand how implementation of biomarker evaluation in clinical trials might improve patient quality of life and survival.

“If we hope to have clinical trials for interventions that extend healthy lifespan in humans, we need reliable, validated biomarkers of ageing,” said co-first author Jesse Poganik, PhD, of the Division of Genetics. 

“We hope that our framework will help prioritise the most promising biomarkers and provide health care providers with clinically valuable and actionable tools.”

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Healthy aging research to receive $115 million



Global non-profit Hevolution Foundation has announced $115 million in funding that makes up 49 new awards under its Geroscience Research Opportunities (HF-GRO) programme.  

As part of Hevolution’s mission to catalyse the healthspan scientific ecosystem and drive transformative breakthroughs in healthy aging, HF-GRO is funding promising pre-clinical research in aging biology and geroscience. 

Through this first wave of HF-GRO awards, Hevolution will invest up to $115 million in this first cohort of 49 selected projects over the next five years. Its second call for proposals under HF-GRO will be announced later this year, offering an additional $115 million to address the significant funding gaps in aging research.  

Dr. Felipe Sierra, Hevolution’s Chief Scientific Officer stated: “These 49 important research projects represent a significant step forward in deepening our understanding of healthy aging. Hevolution’s prime objective is to mobilise greater investment around uncovering the foundational mechanisms behind biological aging. 

“We are steadfast in our belief that by examining the root causes of aging, rather than solely focusing on its associated diseases, we can usher in a brighter future for humanity.” 

HF-GRO awardees include researchers at prestigious institutions across the United States, Canada, and Europe, including the U.S. National Institute on Aging, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Buck Institute, the Mayo Clinic, New York University, and the University of California San Francisco, among many others. 

The American Federation for Aging Research is providing programmatic support for the HF-GRO program, with grantees selected through a rigorous two-stage peer-review process involving 100 experts in aging biology and geroscience. 

Dr Berenice Benayoun, an HF-GRO grant recipient at the University of Southern California, stated: “I am extremely honored and excited that Hevolution selected our project for funding. This is a project close to my heart, which aims at understanding why and how the female and male innate immune aging differs. 

“This funding will support us as we start laying the foundation for a lasting improvement of women’s health throughout aging.” 

To date, Hevolution has committed approximately $250 million to transform the healthy aging sector, including the $40 million for specialised research and development in healthspan science recently announced at Hevolution’s Global Healthspan Summit. 

Hevolution is ramping up its investments to enable healthier aging for all and is now the second largest funder of aging biology research worldwide.  

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