A test which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to measure proteins present in some patients with advanced bowel colorectal cancer (CRC) could hold the key to more targeted treatment, according to researchers published today at the University of Leeds and Roche Diagnostics, and will help doctors and patients to decide on the best treatment options.
For the study, investigators used samples from a previous trial funded by Cancer Research UK to look at the levels of two proteins, known as amphiregulin (AREG) and epiregulin (EREG), which are produced by some colorectal cancers. Algorithms driven by AI enabled the researchers to show that patients with higher levels of these proteins received significant benefit from a treatment which inhibits a different protein involved in cancer cell growth, known as the anti-EGFR agent, panitumumab. Of equal importance, patients with low levels of the proteins did not benefit from the treatment.
Currently, anti-EGFR treatments are only given to patients with advanced, incurable bowel cancers. The researchers hope their methodology could be used in the future to identify patients in the earlier stages of illness who could also benefit from the drugs.
"As more treatment options become available for advanced colorectal cancer, it is becoming increasingly difficult for patients and their doctors to choose the treatment that's right for them,” explained lead author of the report, Dr Christopher Williams, Leeds University's Division of Pathology and Data Analytics. “This test will help patients navigate this decision-making process more easily."
The findings were featured in the paper, ‘Artificial intelligence-assisted amphiregulin and epiregulin immunohistochemistry predicts panitumumab benefit in RAS wild-type metastatic colorectal cancer’, published in Clinical Cancer Research. The study was funded by Innovate UK and Roche Diagnostics as well as Yorkshire Cancer Research. It was part of a programme of work in this field being conducted by the National Pathology Imaging Co-operative.
"As increasing numbers of complex tests are developed to target the right cancer treatments to the right patients, developing streamlined methods for delivering test results will be essential to improve cancer care,” said the report's senior author, Dr Kandavel Shanmugam, who is a senior director of medical innovation at Roche Diagnostics. "By using artificial intelligence to semi-automate the test process, we anticipate it may be easier for results to be delivered to patients faster to better influence treatment decisions."