Home >companies >news >Ganit Labs develops Rs5,000 test for tongue cancer patients

Bengaluru: Ganit Labs, a genetics lab based in Bengaluru, has developed a medical test that could predict the survival chances of tongue cancer patients for as little as 5,000.

The test, based on a detailed analysis of changing gene patterns in cancer patients, could help doctors manage the disease better, understand the chances of recurrence and ultimately help in the diagnosis of even other forms of oral cancer.

“Cancer research in the past has been largely focused on a single or a handful of genes, and their role in cellular structure and function. Although the previous findings have made sense in isolation, it has not told us the full story on any cancer," said Binay Panda, who heads the lab. “We changed this focused view with some high-throughput technique to explain cancer as a system."

Ganit Labs’ detailed analysis of tongue cancer has resulted in the discovery of several variants and shed light on different genetic maps, genes and pathways active in this type of cancer.

“What the results practically mean is that we should be able to use the integrated signature and predict survival and recurrence in tongue cancer patients," Panda said.

Ganit Labs was set up in 2010 as a collaboration between the Karnataka government, the centre and Strand Life Sciences, with a mandate to encourage entrepreneurs in the areas of genomics and computational biology. With the progress it has made in tongue cancer research, the lab hopes a start-up could spin off in less than three years.

The lab, which has so far received grants of around 20 crore, has done intense analysis and integration of data on tongue cancer patients’ DNA and RNA, among other things.

“Through molecular profiling, we could know what the chances of survival are in percentage terms and the treatment could differ based on the survival chances, and the disease can be managed better. The basic tenet is to make predictions based on the gene changes," he said.

The lab used 50 samples from patients at the Mazumdar-Shaw Cancer Centre in Bengaluru. To further build certainty, it is likely to scale up the experiments to 500 more cancer patients over the next three to five years. “The study is going to be a continuous one and as we accrue more patients, the results will be integrated with the previous results. This large number is going to add statistical significance to the study. However, we don’t need 500 samples to provide clinical solutions. The initial clinical testing will start within the next 12-18 months," Panda said.

The lab has integrated all the data related to these molecular studies to conduct computational analysis towards solutions for use in the clinic. These are a series of data-crunching procedures which establish how mutations in the gene, other molecular changes and epidemiological factors impact cancer.

“The work on tongue cancer is extendable to all head and neck cancers. We have already done another small study in larynx and hypopharynx cancer. The tests that we are talking about will be done as an add-on and not as a clinical decision-making test at first. Once we gather data on more patients, we shall move to a clinical decision-making point," Panda said.

Ganit Labs initiated studies in head and neck cancer by looking at gene alterations in primary tumours, variations and pathway information, and other clinical and epidemiological parameters.

“There are experimental studies going on in the area of prognosis based on gene therapy. The study of what effect genes have on oral cancers can be helpful in deciding the course of treatment. We have around 1.2 lakh new oral cancer cases in India every year and most of them are caused by chewing tobacco or smoking. But we are very far from being able to diagnose cancer based on genes," said Dr Umanath Nayak, a surgeon at Apollo Hospitals.

The occurrence of tongue cancer is on the rise globally, affecting eight out of every 100,000 people each year. Among oral cancers, treatment in the region of origin is difficult and has high failure rates in tongue cancer. What can come in handy then is personalized treatments for patients based on such genetic studies.

Working on similar lines, companies such as Genomic Health and Foundation Medicine in the US have developed clinical tests for a wider range of diseases.

Prior to researching cancer, Ganit completed sequencing and analysing the genome of the neem plant. The lab now wants to take up the neem genome work for large-scale production of metabolites, small molecules which are intermediaries of metabolic process.

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