Breast cancer is the most widespread cancerous disease among women around the world. To be diagnosed, a patient must visit a medical facility. However, in today's world, when women are torn between work and family, they cannot always find the time. Participants in the Be Safe team, who have qualified for the ‘SPbU Start-up - 2020’ contest, are working on the creation of an express test to solve this problem.
According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer accounts for 16% of all cancer cases among women. The statistics are frightening – 519,000 people died of breast cancer in 2004. While survival rates are as high as 80% in North America, Sweden and Japan, they reach only 40% in lower income countries. According to experts, the high mortality in less developed countries is due to the fact that diseases are detected at late stages.
In Russia, there are several methods available for breast cancer diagnostics: mammography, ultrasound, MRT, and biopsy. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, but the common thing is that a woman must find time and visit a medical facility.
‘Most women will not seek a diagnosis if they have no symptoms. That's why we decided to create an express test, with the help of which it will be possible to detect breast cancer without leaving home,’ says the captain of the Be Safe team, third year student of the Advertising and Public Relations programme, Alina Ivanova.
Our method has a very high accuracy – 92 %
Captain of the Be Safe team Alina Ivanova
The idea was put forward by two other members of the team – Anna Makarova and Dariia Khvostikova, who study in the fifth year of the ‘General Medicine’ programme. They were inspired by a scientific publication on diagnosing cancer by saliva. This is possible due to fact that breast and salivary glands are similar in a number of parameters. As a result, nine oncomarkers are present in the saliva of patients. These are the specific substances that occur when tumours develop: CA6, S100A8, CSTA, GRM1, TPT1, GRIK1, H6PD, IGF2BP1 and MDM4.
‘Of course, our method is very convenient, but it's not the most important thing. What's more important is to detect breast cancer as early as possible. It significantly increases the chances of a successful outcome for the patient. At the early stages, it is possible to have surgery that might cure a woman. In the later stages, surgery can only prolong a patient's life,’ said Alina Ivanova.
The express test is a strip of paper with a membrane containing antibodies to detect the oncomarkers. Using a special pipette, which is also included in the kit, the user places her saliva on the test. The result will be ready in fifteen minutes: one line means negative, two lines denote positive.
‘If the result is positive, the woman must see a doctor. Despite the fact that the accuracy of the test is quite high, it is not 100% and, of course, additional diagnostics is needed,’ explains Alina Ivanova.
The creators of the test point out that there is no similar method in Russia or abroad and they have no doubts about the need for express testing. The trend for a healthy lifestyle and the constant shortage of time in the cities also prompt this demand. However, as often happens, certain problems have arisen. The most serious of them is difficulty in creating a prototype.
‘The antibodies that we plan to use are quite specific and expensive. Therefore, it is impossible to implement our project without the support of large companies specialising in the production of express tests and antibodies. We have already started negotiations with some of them,’ says Alina Ivanova.
This is the fifth time the SPbU Start-up contest has been held at the University. Teams that present the most knowledge-intensive and commercially promising business models will receive money prizes from the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund. First place earns 300,000 roubles, second place – 200,000 roubles, and third – 100,000 roubles. In addition, the two winning teams may be offered the opportunity to create small innovative enterprises together with the University. Grants for their development will amount to 1,000,000 and 700,000 roubles. Detailed information about the SPbU Start-up - 2020 contest can be found on the website of the St Petersburg University Endowment Fund.
The project also involves Anna Makarova and Dariia Khvostikova, Iuliia Dolmatova (third year students of ‘Advertising and Public Relations’) and Jana Buchkowski (third year student of ‘Management’). Irina Astratenkova, Associate Professor of the Department of Physiology at St Petersburg University, is the research supervisor of the team.
In the finals, the Be Safe team will present their completed business plan with all calculations, as well as a test model. In addition, they plan to present to the jury the expert opinion of practicing oncologists regarding the project.
‘The "SPbU Start-up - 2020" contest helps young specialists from different fields to cooperate. In the process each of us has learned something new. For example, it was very important for marketing specialists and economists to learn about the scientific component of business projects, while future doctors found out about the economic component,’ said Alina Ivanova.