Awarded for detection of cancer from blood samples
His blood analysis could detect several different cancer types at an early stage, when the sickness may be effectively treated. For this work, Francesco Gatto is now rewarded as an “Innovator Under 35” by MIT Technology Review.
Cancer is mainly diagnosed and monitored using medical imaging techniques such as x-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans. The tests are expensive and could cause harm to patients in the long run. Therefore, these techniques are not to be used to often, which in turn leads to the risk of missing out on an opportunity for early diagnosis.
Metabolites reveal sickness
Using a blood or urine sample, it is now possible to test for early detection of cancer – or cancer relapse – much more frequently, opening up options for optimal treatment. Tests like these are today in place for a few types of cancer. Francesco Gatto, guest researcher and alumnus at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Chalmers, is developing the analysis of blood metabolites – small molecules that reflect a fundamental process of growth in tumour cells – to recognize a larger variety of cancer forms. For this he is now named as an “Innovator Under 35” along with 34 fellow European innovators.
"It is a big honor. At first, I did not fully grasp the magnitude of this. But then, when the news went public, the reaction was quite overwhelming", he says.
"The award acknowledges the work of innovators in driving high risk/high impact projects for our society, and is assigned by a distinguished jury assembled by MIT Technology Review."
Mission: To save lifes
In 2017, Francesco Gatto together with Professor Jens Nielsen founded the company Elypta, a spin-off company to Chalmers that is also in close collaboration with the university. Elypta’s mission is to prevent mortality from cancer by developing their liquid biopsy platform for detection as well as monitoring the disease, since the findings also show responses to treatments. The approach is based on the measurement of 19 biomarkers, identified during Francesco Gatto’s doctoral studies at Chalmers, and use of machine learning algorithms to generate a biomarker score, tailored to identify cancer-type specific signatures.
"We have now completed over five clinical studies to show exceptional accuracy, not only in our main indication – renal cell carcinoma – but also in multiple other forms of cancer", Francesco Gatto says, and adds the Elypta is planning to release the diagnostic test for research use in 2019, and activate two multicenter trials in 2020.
"There is a lot of evidence to suggest that early detection reduces mortality, which, at the end of the day, is the only thing that matters", he concludes.
Paloma Cabello, member of the jury of “Innovators Under 35” in 2018, comments that Francesco Gatto stands out for his “technical brilliance, creativity, and focus on the transference and implementation capacity”.
Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Martina Butorac