Funding to explore new blood test to help diagnose difficult to detect myeloma

Researchers are hoping to develop a new blood test to help diagnose and monitor non-measurable myeloma, thanks to funding from Blood Cancer UK.

Close-up of a test tube with a sample of blood in the hands of a doctor in a laboratory.

In a new £310k project, Dr Tracey Chan and Dr Jennifer Heaney and their team at the University of Birmingham are developing a new technique to help diagnose and monitor people with a particular type of myeloma that is currently hard to detect.

Blood cancer diagnosis can be challenging. A small percentage of people with myeloma do not produce sufficient amounts of a specific protein used for monitoring and their disease is often referred to as non-measurable myeloma as it’s hard to detect the disease via a standard blood test.

People with non-measurable myeloma regularly undergo more invasive procedures such as bone marrow biopsies and whole-body scans to diagnose and monitor the disease. These types of procedures are much more time-consuming and can cause a lot of stress and discomfort. Our research will test a new less invasive technique and understand whether it could be used as an alternative.

Dr Jennifer Heaney from the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham

The new technique takes blood samples from someone with myeloma and separates blood proteins based on their electrical charge. It detects specific proteins that would not be visible with standard blood tests.

The team will be testing their new approach on a large group of people with the disease and also conduct group conversations with people with non-measurable myeloma to understand their opinions of using this type of test as an alternative. 

These blood tests would be relatively low cost and may also be done at a patient's local GP surgery, which are usually closer to home, so when undergoing treatment people with this form of blood cancer wouldn’t have to regularly make the journey to hospital for check-ups.

Dr Tracey Chan from the Institute of Immunology and Immunotherapy at the University of Birmingham

In the UK around 5,900 people are diagnosed with myeloma each year. While myeloma can be treated, it currently has no cure. Myeloma is a blood cancer arising from plasma cells, a type of white blood cell made in the bone marrow. Normal plasma cells produce antibodies to help fight infection. Myeloma affects areas where bone marrow is normally active, such as in the bones of the spine, skull, pelvis, rib cage, arms, legs, shoulders and hips.

Blood cancer is the UK’s third biggest cancer killer, so research to understand how to better diagnose these conditions is vital. Our own research shows 31% of people with blood cancer have to visit their GP three or more times before being diagnosed. Thanks to the Mattew Wilson Multiple Myeloma fund we’re pleased to be able to make these projects happen at the University of Birmingham - a growing hub for myeloma research. With continued focus on diagnosing and preventing myeloma we will make sure fewer people are affected by the condition.

Dr Rubina Ahmed, Director of Research at Blood Cancer UK