Like most people, Gillian Mazy wasn’t excited about the prospect of having a chunk of skin on her face cut out and checked for cancer.
She put off having a biopsy because she was scared of going under the knife and hoped the recurring “pimple” would go away.
But it didn’t. By the time she was tested, she had to endure two biopsies and several surgeries to deal with the very aggressive cancer.
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She was left with extensive scarring that cost thousands of dollars to fix as well as ongoing issues with her sinuses, and often has to use a CPAP machine to help her breathe at night.
Unlike most people, Mrs Mazy had a son who decided to create a product that would mean nobody would ever have to risk their life to avoid cancer screening again.
Sydney-based genomics specialist Stefan Mazy is developing a world-first microneedle patch that could make screening for potential skin cancer a simple at home test, alleviating the need for invasive biopsies in hundreds of thousands of cases and reducing the cost to the healthcare system.
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Melanoma is one of the most prevalent cancers diagnosed in Australia but only one in eight to ten biopsies result in a cancer diagnosis, says Vin Rajeswaran, vice president of the Skin Cancer College of Australasia.
Non-melanoma skin cancers cost the healthcare system approximately $1 billion annually, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Some 40 per cent of skin biopsies conducted in Australia in 2022 produced benign results, making the scarring, risk of infection and $400 million cost seem extra painful.
The DermR Patch will be able to screen for cancer cells at the site of a suspected melanoma without the cost or pain of going under the knife.
It contains a tiny needle that is inserted no further than 0.8mm into the skin to extract skin cells with no pain or blood and just “a tiny bit of pressure”, says Mr Mazy, who is CEO of DermR Health Solutions.
Much like the bowel cancer screening test, the patch will be able to be administered by a nurse or even taken home with results sent off for analysis, he explains.
Stefan Mazy with his mother Gillian, whose biopsy experience inspired him to develop the DermR patch. Credit: Supplied
“COVID-19 has already proven that (self-diagnosing) future is here -you’re already allowed to self-test at home for something that can kill,” Mr Mazy told AAP.
“Similarly to the bowel cancer screening – this will reduce the burden (on the healthcare system). There’s still a place for a biopsy, but it will reduce the need.”
When it can take 100 days to get an appointment in Melbourne, having these results in a couple of weeks will be game-changing, Mr Mazy says.
“If we can reduce that time by a third, we can treat three times as many patients,” he said.
Microneedle technology is not new – there are already patches available for administering medicines like vaccines, and for taking blood glucose readings for people with diabetes.
“But what no company has been able to do is basically have the opposite, where you have microneedle structures that can perforate the skin and actually extract tissue,” Mr Mazy said.
“That in itself is a brand new manufacturing and engineering model that has never been performed before.
“We’ve basically developed a way to be able to make hundreds of thousands of these at a relatively cheap cost.”
The test only requires two to three cells of skin that are extracted within two minutes and then sent off for analysis to see if the genes responsible for cancer have been activated and are being expressed.
Patients who do have signs of cancer will then require the biopsy to confirm it, but it’s hoped it will save hundreds of thousands of unnecessary procedures being performed.
The patches are in the final stages of testing and moving towards a clinical trial phase due to start in the Pilbara in February 2024.
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