By TAKAHIRO TAKENOUCHI/ Staff Writer
November 27, 2020 at 08:00 JST
A bio enterprise that uses eelworms to detect cancer from urine samples has made it easier to test people who are reluctant to visit medical centers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tokyo-based Hirotsu Bio Science Inc. on Nov. 1 opened dedicated stations to test for 15 kinds of cancer in Fukuoka’s Hakata Ward and the capital’s Chiyoda Ward.
Urine samples can be taken at home and delivered to the stations. The test results will then be sent to the homes.
People have refrained from undergoing regular health checkups to avoid the risk of catching the novel coronavirus. But Hirotsu Bio Science calls on people to “take cancer examinations periodically.”
“We should not forget about the risks of cancer during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Takaaki Hirotsu, president of Hirotsu Bio Science. “We have developed an environment where anyone can take tests without any anxiety.”
Hirotsu Bio Science was established in 2016, when Hirotsu, now 48, was an assistant professor of bioscience at Kyushu University.
The company uses the N-Nose tumor check system, which takes advantage of the exceptional sense of smell of soil-dwelling eelworms measuring 1 millimeter long.
The eelworms can detect slight peculiar scents from the urine of cancer patients and tend to crawl closer to tumor-affected specimens.
Eelworms are inexpensive to keep, so one round of testing costs about 10,000 yen ($94.70).
N-Nose cannot specify the cancer type, so it is defined as the “first screening” to lead patients to undergo a more detailed checkup.
Hirotsu Bio Science said its special kit can distinguish 15 types of cancer, including gastric, pulmonary and breast tumors. The test has a higher probability of detecting early-stage tumors compared with conventional methods.
In 2016, Hirotsu Bio Science started clinical research of the kit across Japan.
Working with Kurume and Ogori cities in Fukuoka Prefecture, the startup company conducted verification experiments in December 2019 on the urine samples from 130 municipal officials.
The examination system was further improved after the subjects gave their opinions and suggestions, including making the sticker on the sample container easier to use, according to Hirotsu Bio Science.
The N-Nose program started in January this year, and patients were initially expected to take tests at affiliated medical centers in Fukuoka and Tokyo.
But the novel coronavirus then spread around Japan.
According to the Japan Cancer Society, the ratio of people taking tests for gastric and four other tumors nationwide dropped to 15 percent in April year on year and to 8 percent in May.
The dedicated stations opened to accept samples while reducing social contact. Around 20 individuals delivered samples to the Fukuoka station on the opening day.
The company advises people to collect their urine in special containers delivered to their homes. The samples should be brought to the stations within four hours at normal temperatures. Frozen samples are also welcomed.
The specimens will then be sent to test centers in Tokyo and Ehime Prefecture, and participants can receive the results at their homes in around six weeks.
To apply for the test program, visit Hirotsu Bio Science’s website at (https://hbio.jp/en/).
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