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Mathematical modelling could lead to simple blood test for brain tumours

A simple blood test for glioblastomas (GBMs) could mean earlier diagnosis and more effective and personalised treatment options.

Concept of how mathematical modelling may be used in the development and deployment of blood-based biomarkers for brain tumours. This figure summarises the role mathematical modelling could play in blood-based liquid biopsy development and implementation. Dr Johanna Blee, University of Bristol

Press release issued: 3 August 2022

University of Bristol research could lead to better detection of the most common type of malignant brain cancer.

The development of a simple blood test for glioblastomas (GBMs) could mean earlier diagnosis and more effective and personalised treatment options.

Bristol-led research, published in the journal The Royal Society Interface, involved the development of mathematical models to assess the current use of biomarkers in the detection of GBMs and how such biomarker-based strategies can be improved.

This research is part of a wider University of Bristol-led CRUK project to develop an affordable, point of care blood test to diagnose brain tumours. This cross-disciplinary project combines biomarker discovery, development of fluorescent nanoparticle and new testing techniques with computational modelling.

In this recent study mathematical models were developed and paired with experimental data. The researchers found that for the prospective GBM biomarker Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) lowering the current biomarker threshold could lead to earlier detection of GBMs. The team also used computational modelling to explore the impact of tumour characteristics and patient differences on detection and strategies for improvements.

Dr Johanna Blee, lead author and Research Associate in the University of Bristol’s Department of Engineering Mathematics, said:

“Our findings provide the basis for further clinical data on the impact of lowering the current detection threshold for the known biomarker, GFAP, to allow earlier detection of GBMs using blood tests. With further experimental data, it may also be possible to quantify tumour and patient heterogeneities and incorporate errors into our models and predictions for blood levels for different tumours. We have also demonstrated how our models can be combined with other diagnostics such as scans to enhance clinical insight with a view to developing more personalised and effective treatments.

“These mathematical models could be used to examine and compare new biomarkers and tests for brain tumours as they emerge. We are hopeful this research will ultimately aid the development of a simple blood test for brain tumours, enabling earlier and more detailed diagnoses.”


Liquid biopsies for early diagnosis of brain tumours: in-silico mathematical biomarker modelling,’ by Blee, J; Lui, X; Harland, A; Fatania, K; Currie, S; Kurain, K and Hauert, S in The Royal Society Interface.

Further information

Engineering Mathematics at the University of Bristol
Engineering Mathematics is a research-intensive department, promoting the use of mathematics to study real-world problems of direct engineering, scientific and industrial relevance.

Staff in the department contribute to research across the University including artificial intelligence, machine learning, complexity, robotics, dynamics and control, environmental uncertainty, predictive life sciences, and neurosciences.

Bristol Brain Tumour Research Centre
The Brain Tumour Research Centre is part of the University of Bristol's Institute of Clinical Neurosciences. Researchers from the centre collaborate with a range of groups including brain tumour research charities, neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, neurologists and Bristol Genetics Laboratory, to advance understanding and treatment of brain tumours.

BrisSynBio is a multi-disciplinary research centre that focuses on the biomolecular design and engineering aspects of synthetic biology. 

BrisSynBio is part of the Bristol BioDesign Institute. For more information, news and research highlights visit the Bristol BioDesign Institute pages.

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and Southmead Hospital Charitable Funds: Brain tumour bank and research fund 8036 as part of the CRUK Integrated Cancer Epidemiology Programme, Bristol.

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