Israel develops 'breakthrough' method to identify thyroid cancer

The study was led by Dr. Haggi Mazeh, head of the department of General Surgery at Hadassah Mt. Scopus, and Dr. Iddo Ben-Dov, senior physician in the Dept. of Nephrology.

Hadassah University Medical Center (photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
Hadassah University Medical Center
(photo credit: AVI HAYOUN)
Doctors at Hadassah University Medical Center have developed what they are calling a “breakthrough” new method to identify thyroid cancer with 94% accuracy.
The study – led by Dr. Haggi Mazeh, head of the department of General Surgery at Hadassah-University Medical Center on Mt. Scopus, and Dr. Iddo Ben-Dov, senior physician in the Department of Nephrology – was published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.
Mazeh explained to The Jerusalem Post that the thyroid gland is responsible for metabolism, temperature regulation and more within the human body. However, the thyroid often develops small nodules, or solid or fluid-filled lumps that have the potential to be cancerous.
“In some cases, a biopsy should be performed to determine if the lump is benign or malignant,” the doctor said.
Thyroid biopsies are done using a procedure called fine needle aspiration. Because the needle is so thin and therefore the specimen is very small, in as many as 30% of cases, the test results are unequivocal.
Mazeh said that if one’s results are inconclusive, then it is recommended that the patient repeat the biopsy. If it remains inconclusive, the patient is left with two options: to purchase an expensive – $3,000, according to Mazeh – commercial molecular examination or undergo partial or complete gland removal surgery.
In the first phase of the study, conducted at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Ein Kerem, 274 thyroid specimens were taken from patients – some benign and some malignant. The researchers identified the different expressions of microRNA in malignant and benign thyroid nodules and create a microRNA panel against which they could compare nodule samples.
“When we saw that it was possible to differentiate between benign and malignant relationships, we took samples from another group of 35 associations with an unequivocal answer and saw that the differences in the expression of the microRNAs were able to correctly identify the nature of the relationship – whether it is benign or malignant – at 94% accuracy,” Mazeh concluded. “This is a breakthrough, since this level of accuracy is higher than the other commercial and expensive tests available on the market today.
“We tested patients and tried to predict if they have cancer or not,” Mazeh continued. “It turned out that our microRNA panel is very accurate.”
The next step?
The team is looking for funding to be able to increase the number of samples tested against their microRNA panel.
He said that the team has already received appeals from hospitals around the world that would like to send their samples for testing. Then, Mazeh explained, once it is proven accurate, it will be available to patients. He predicts this will happen within a year or two.
He said greater accuracy can help many patients and physicians decide whether to undergo surgery to remove the thyroid gland.
“Besides the potential complications of surgery, removing the thyroid gland can create a permanent dependence on the patient for medication, affecting his or her entire lifestyle,” Mazeh noted. “We hope to advance this research as soon as possible, in order to start making the test available to the public and help as many patients as possible.”