A project being undertaken within the Faculty for Medicine and Surgery at the University of Malta, and which is financially supported by the program Fusion administered by the Malta Council for Science and Technology, has the ultimate goal of optimizing methodologies for the early identification of metastatic disease, or cancer that can spread from one body part to another.
This project, called IMPRINT, kicked off in April 2020 and started working on metastatic disease of the breast, colon and lungs, focusing particularly on types of cancer that are not radiologically visible. Hence the research outcomes have the potential to predict early spread of tumours, resulting in major improvement in the quality of life of cancer patients and a reduction in treatment costs.
During a visit at the laboratories used for this research, Minister for Research, Innovation and the Co-ordination of the Post Covid-19 Strategy Owen Bonnici expressed his satisfaction that research of such value is being undertaken by Maltese academics. “This research project has the potential to make a huge difference in the way cancer is treated and can drastically improve the quality of life of those affected by this disease, in Malta and beyond,” Minister Bonnici continued.
Minister Bonnici explained that project IMPRINT was made possible in Malta thanks to €200,000 in funds from the Fusion programme within MCST, and now employs a Research Support Officer 3 on full-time basis, hence also providing employment opportunities to scientists with a PhD in the field of Molecular Biology.
Project IMPRINT is a new concept on how tumour cells circulating within the blood system can be identified and characterized. This technique will open new avenues for liquid biopsy and could identify early metastatic cancer before it can be identified through the traditional radiological techniques in use today.
At such an early stage of metastasis, it would be possible to target the cancer with specific drugs much more effectively.
Prof Christian Scerri explained that by means of this project, so far researchers have been successful in isolating targeted, intact cells in blood samples and staining them. Innovative molecular profiling technologies using bead-based tests that read multiple transcripts (products of genes) in one run were optimized to measure the characteristics of isolated cells.
This project is being led by Prof Christian Scerri as the Principal Investigator, with Prof Godfrey Grech as Co-Investigator and is being done in collaboration with Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, Mater Dei Hospital.