Petra Paiz

Looking at early ways to detect colorectal cancer.

Medical Student Prize

“Developing a direct mass spectrometric assay for the identification of early disease biomarkers for colorectal cancer.”

Metabolomics has emerged as a novel, rapidly growing technology and faecal metabolomics presents a non-invasive avenue for investigation of the GI tract. Rapid Evaporative Ionisation Mass Spectrometry (REIMS), an ambient MS
technology, can identify precancerous lesions and colorectal cancer (CRC) with high diagnostic accuracy based on analysis of lipid profiles of tissues. Laser Assisted – Rapid Evaporative Ionisation mass spectrometry (LA-REIMS) is a technique that allows samples to be assessed in a large volume with little-to-no
sample preparation – an ideal technique for a screening investigation of the gut.

This research examined the use of LA-REIMS for the reliable detection of small molecules which may indicate pre-cancerous and cancerous growths in faecal samples. The aims were to optimise the mass spectrometry assay as a tool for faecal sample testing, to determine the accuracy of the optimised mass
spectrometry assay for early cancer detection (as compared to controls) and identify small molecule biomarkers – molecules which can indicate the presence of cancer related processes.

They also looked to examine how patient diet, age, BMI, gender, ethnicity, comorbidities, and medication may affects the LA-REIMS analysis of faeces. Finally, they wanted to investigate how sample collection technique and storage conditions of faecal samples could influence the general applicability of this test.

‘The impact of this research will be to reduce the incidence of cancer by improving early detection of adenomas and we aim to use this assay to reduce endoscopic time and economic burden, as well as waiting times.’

Why did you choose this project?

Early on in medical school I developed an interest in gastroenterology and research. I found the breadth of the specialty fascinating, and I saw first-hand how novel research in the field improved patients’ quality of life. I chose gastroenterology and hepatology as my BSc, which I further expanded on this interest by pursuing a PhD in the optimisation of novel assays for biomarker discovery in gastrointestinal diseases. Bowel cancer is the 4th most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 11% of all new cancer cases and early detection increases the chances of survival. Although colonoscopy is the gold standard for detection it is invasive and unpleasant for the patient. The faecal immunochemical test (FIT) although cheap, is not completely reliable for detecting early cancer. There is, therefore, an unmet need for more robust
testing for biomarkers associated with early bowel cancer detection.’

"It is a true honour to share my work through the GUTS UK/ Dr Falk 2021 Medical Student Prize and be recognised by a charity I hold in the greatest regard. This award gives me an opportunity to share my research findings and expand on my training in science as well as clinical medicine. In the future, I am hoping to combine my passions for research and clinical practice and become an academic clinician. Although I am still early on in my career, I have a true passion for the field of cancer research and gastroenterology."

- Petra Paizs

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