'Critical' test could help Maori cancer patients

An Otago scientist is developing a 'critical' test that can help close the gap created by healthcare inequities in Maori and rural communities.

University of Otago Professor of Biochemistry Dr Parry Guilford is working on introducing a simple blood test to detect DNA that comes from cancerous tumours in the bloodstream.

He hopes that this new test will enable earlier indications of whether or not cancer treatments are working.

“If someone has finished treatment, you can keep an eye on them and see if it’s coming back or not,” he said.

Prof Guilford’s research has been focused on adapting this internationally used blood sampling method for New Zealand conditions, and reducing the costs to make it accessible for everyone.

Scans and X-rays have a number of disadvantages associated with them, including accessibility and cost, Prof Guilford said.

“Those scans are only available at the bigger hospitals, which makes it tougher for Maori who live in rural parts of the country,” he said.

“That technology is also quite expensive, there’s a significant queue, and because of the radiation, you can only get them every eight to 10 weeks.”

Professor Guilford aims to remove these obstacles through his work.

"The new method could be critical in improving health inequities facing Maori and those in isolated parts of the country."

“Whether it be rural GPs or clinics on marae, this has a real potential to take this surveillance of patients in treatment away from hospitals and out to the communities.”

“It’s a really powerful thing.”

Consultations with Maori will begin in the coming weeks, and a second trial involving non-Maori patients living in rural communities will take place at a later date.

Anyone interested in being involved to help develop the test technology is being encouraged to contact Professor Guilford at the University’s Cancer Genetics Laboratory or by emailing parry.guilford@otago.ac.nz.

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