There’s nothing like a good tearjerker when you go to the movies – and this one could be a very good tearjerker indeed.
The Breast Cancer Foundation collected the tears of almost 400 Auckland cinema-goers as they watched a special screening of the romantic drama Brooklyn at a CBD cinema this week, as part of research into tears as an early marker of the disease.
Adele Gautier, the foundation’s research and communications manager, said the research was at an early stage.
“They’ve already discovered the biomarker – which is what they call the protein in the tears – and now it’s about understanding, ‘Well, how do you actually collect that and analyse the tears and then use that data to form the basis of some sort of screening in the future’,” she said.
The event was organised by US biotechnology company Ascendant Dx, the Rialto Channel and the foundation.
Ascendant Dx’s tear collecting device, known as Melody, looks for the protein biomarkers. It takes just half an hour to produce a result, and is cheaper and more accessible than a mammogram.
“Our goal is to have Melody available in physicians’ offices and wellness clinics so that testing could be done during a yearly wellness visit,” says Melody lead scientist Dr Anna Daily.
Another advantage of the test is that it doesn’t require any specialised equipment. Mammography equipment can be very expensive, so the tear test could be used in parts of the world where it isn’t feasible to have screening centres.
It’s early days for the device, which will have to go through extensive clinical testing before it’s available to use as a diagnostic tool. In order to test the device, the researchers need tear samples, which is where the movie-goers came in.
The tear collection is simple, and the test isn’t at all painful. The researcher gently presses on the skin below one eye and lightly places the end of a strip of absorbent fabric on the lower eyelid. Participants simply close their eyes for about 3 minutes before the researcher removes the strip.
The tears collected at the screening will be used to test the stability of tear proteins, so the participants won’t receive any results based on their tear samples.
To detect breast cancer early, mammograms are the most effective option. New Zealand women of the right age for free screening (45-69) and not enrolled with BreastScreen Aotearoa can sign up at: www.nsu.govt.nz/register-breastscreen-aotearoa
Breast cancer is New Zealand’s third most common cancer. It kills more than 600 people each year.