(Vienna, 3 May 2017) "Each tumour is different. A tumour behaves almost like a living thing, in that it works out the best strategy to survive in a certain individual. In medicine, we call this tumour heterogeneity. And this is why it's so important to have a personalised individual diagnosis, especially for cancers. We want to be able to characterise the tumour at the earliest possible stage of the disease, to assess its aggressiveness and determine whether it has metastasised. The better we understand a tumour, the better we can regulate treatment, so that it is specifically targeted for that patient," says Markus Mitterhauser from MedUni Vienna and Head of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Applied Diagnostics, speaking on the occasion of the opening celebration on 2 May 2017.
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Applied Diagnostics started working at MedUni Vienna in September 2016, addressing in particular the diagnosis of prostate cancer and colon cancer. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), prostate cancer is the commonest type of cancer diagnosed in men, while colon cancer is the third commonest cancer diagnosed in men and the second commonest in women.
In the meantime, four research groups have been set up at the Institute and the first projects started. A total of 15 scientists from seven different countries work at the Institute, including five key researchers and two postdocs. The scientists work on an interdisciplinary basis and come from the fields of molecular biology, chemistry, medicine and health economics. "Successful bidders for a Ludwig Boltzmann Institute can expect good framework conditions for top-level research on a level that can attract international attention," says Josef Pröll, President of the Ludwig Boltzmann Society, speaking at the opening celebration.
Dual biomarkers for diagnosing prostate and colon cancer
The teams at LBI Applied Diagnostics are researching the use of so-called dual biomarkers for diagnosing prostate and colon cancer. Dual biomarkers combine two important technologies used in cancer diagnosis: molecular-biological tumour diagnosis (liquid biopsy) and molecular imaging using nuclear medicine and radiopharmaceuticals. "We are the first in the world to carry out specific research into dual biomarkers and we hope that our research work will provide us with a better understanding of tumours and hence much more accurate diagnostics," says Institute Director Mitterhauser.
Liquid biopsy should replace painful biopsies in the longer term
The liquid biopsy technique can detect malignant genetic and biochemical changes in tumours using tumour DNA or tumour cells circulating in the blood. If we look carefully at these mutations of the tumour DNA in blood samples, we can draw conclusions about the nature of the tumour and assess how aggressive it is. "The better our understanding of the biochemical changes in the tumour, the better the diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Liquid biopsy also has the advantage that it spares patients from very painful tissue biopsies. All we need is a blood sample, which we then analyse in the laboratory. This is another reason why we are working on reducing the number of invasive biopsies in the future by using liquid biopsy instead," explains molecular biologist Gerda Egger, Deputy Director of the Institute and leader of the molecular pathology research group.
The results of the liquid biopsy provide the information necessary to identify and produce the correct radiopharmacology for each patient. Molecular imaging with nuclear medicine is the second step in the use of dual biomarkers. Radiopharmaceuticals, that is to say radioactive drugs, are used to map and image the molecular changes in malignant tissue. "This is a particularly accurate technique," explains nuclear medical specialist Mitterhauser. "The radiopharmacology is administered to the cancer patient and initially spreads through their entire body but ends up adhering solely to the tumour itself and to the metastases. An example of classic radiopharmacology is radioactive sugar. With the radiopharmacology in their body, the patient is put into a scanner where we trace the radiopharmacology by means of molecular imaging and are able to inspect the tumour in detail and to characterise it." This is the focus of the "Imaging Biomarkers” research group, led by chemist Thomas Mindt.
"Our research is not about imaging per se. We are much more interested in the information hidden in the images; we want to understand the biochemistry in the tumour. The better we understand the biochemical changes, the more accurately we are able to diagnose the tumour, so that we can regulate treatment," says Mitterhauser. "The use of dual biomarkers should pave the way for highly targeted treatment. The results of our research are constantly being fed in stages into the diagnosis and treatment of patients. This is particularly important to us, since it means that our basic research reaches patients without any delay and clinical application also provides us with important feedback, which we can incorporate into our work." The "Clinical Applications" research group is being led by medical doctor Markus Zeitlinger.
A further research group at the Institute, led by health economist Judit Simon, is concerned with ethical questions of cancer diagnosis and with health economics, that is to say the cost to the healthcare system.
Ludwig Boltzmann Institute Applied Diagnostics was founded by Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft GmbH together with the Medical University of Vienna, GE Healthcare Ltd. (UK), a few companies of the Molecular Diagnostic Group (Germany), Hermes Medical Solutions AB (Sweden), IASON GmbH (Austria) and Oncotest GmbH (Germany).