Rapid prostate cancer test based on citrate levels in prostate
3 June 2009
Researchers from the Universities of Durham and Maryland have
developed a test that uses light to measure citrate levels in samples
from the prostate gland. The technique could provide the basis of a
rapid means of detecting prostate cancer. The results of the research
have been published in Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry .
Almost a quarter of male cancers in the UK are diagnosed as prostate
cancer and more than 10,000 men die from the disease each year.
Scientists, led by Prof David Parker from Durham University’s
Chemistry Department, have worked with experts from the University of
Maryland, USA to develop the technique that measures the wavelength of
light as it is shone through diluted samples of body fluids.
The research team, funded by the North East Proof of Concept Fund and
the EPSRC, believe that the technique, which can measure with speed and
accuracy, how citrate levels fall in the prostate gland as cancer
develops, could also find use for the diagnosis of other medical
conditions, associated with poor kidney function.
Prof Parker said: “Citrate provides a significant biomarker for
disease that may provide a reliable method for screening and detecting
prostate cancer, and for the monitoring of people with the disease. This
technique could form the basis of a simple screening procedure for
prostate cancer that could be used in outpatient departments at local
His team have shone light into over 100 different chemical structures
to see how they function and respond to the presence of certain
important bioactive species. They have looked particularly closely at
how citrate and lactate bind to luminescent structures within fluids.
Citrate and lactate are vital for our bodies’ metabolism for normal
function. Citrate provides energy for cells and the amount found in the
prostate varies considerably due to an enzyme called m-aconitase which
transforms it. This enzyme is very sensitive to zinc and, in prostate
cancer sufferers, zinc levels are depressed and the enzyme switches on
Prof Leslie Costello from the University of Maryland said: “Citrate
is formed in cell metabolism processes which alter as cancers grow. The
analysis of the citrate concentration of prostatic fluid can provide an
accurate way to screen and diagnose prostate cancer. Since citrate
concentrations decrease markedly early in malignancy, this technique
makes it possible to analyse what’s happening quickly in the early and
treatable stage of prostate cancer. It shows much promise as a clinical
The new test requires only a microlitre of fluid and the sample can
be easily measured in an optical instrument. Using samples from male
volunteers, the researchers have developed a portable instrument that
can give results in three minutes.
The team’s challenge has been how to accurately measure changes in
the amount of citrate or lactate in fluid samples using the technique.
The early results are promising and the team intends to look at the
analysis of other body fluids. A possible way forward is to examine the
citrate levels in seminal fluid samples, which are made up of 50%
The University has launched a spin-out company called FScan Ltd to
develop the technique and to seek commercial backing. The team has
looked at 20 samples so far and verified the analysis in every case. The
next stage is to work with a local hospital and examine samples from 200
volunteers to see whether the first Durham results correlate.
Prof Parker says: “It’s been a complex process to develop the
technique but we’re very optimistic about it. Ultimately, this could
provide an accurate method of screening for prostate cancer in men that
could be carried out in 3-minutes once a biopsy has been obtained from
the patient at a hospital outpatient department.”
The discovery follows the invention in 2006 by Durham University
Professor Douglas Newton of a urine flow meter. The UFlow Meter helps
men to assess if they have a restricted rate of urine flow — one of the
warning signs of prostate problems.
The establishment of FScan Ltd is part of the University’s aim to
enhance the exploitation of the Intellectual Property generated by high
quality research activities.
Tim Hammond, Head of Technology Transfer at Durham University, said:
'”We quickly realised the potential of this research and have worked
closely with Professor Parker and his team to secure initial
proof-of-concept funding through NorthStar Equity Investors and the
North East Proof of Concept Fund and to establish FScan Limited as the
vehicle to validate and commercialise the technology.”
1. Robert Pal, David Parker and Leslie C Costello. A europium
luminescence assay of lactate and citrate in biological fluids.
Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry, 2009, 7, 1525-1528, DOI:
Bookmark this page