Researcher turned entrepreneur develops game-changing cancer test

At a glance

The team

Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur intern Dr. Irsa Wiginton, Co-Founder and Business Development Officer of mDetect Inc. and postdoctoral researcher at Queen’s University; Christopher Mueller, President and Co-Founder of mDetect Inc. and professor at Queen’s University’s Cancer Research Institute.

The challenge

Develop a simple way to quickly and accurately monitor the progress of metastatic breast cancer to improve personalized treatment options.

The solution

A simple blood test to measure ongoing changes in specific tumour markers that appear in patients’ bloodstreams as a means to tailor treatment accordingly.

The outcome

Oncologists will have an effective tool that ultimately leads to better treatment decisions and a higher quality of life for patients.

Dr. Irsa Wiginton, Queen’s University postdoctoral researcher and co-founder of mDetect Inc., hopes to take the guesswork out of breast cancer monitoring with a new blood test that helps oncologists tailor treatment early and effectively.

A new blood test created by Queen’s University postdoctoral researcher Irsa Wiginton promises to take the guesswork out of breast cancer monitoring, crucially accelerating personalized treatment and providing a higher quality of life for patients.

Dr. Wiginton developed the ground-breaking liquid biopsy while building on the work of Dr. Christopher Mueller, President of mDetect Inc. – a firm they co-founded and where she serves as Business Development Officer.

“Unfortunately, people with metastatic breast cancer don’t have a good prognosis,” Dr. Wiginton says. “So, there’s no time to waste when it comes to determining their most effective course of treatment. Right now, the only way to see whether patients are responding to treatment is through imaging tests, which are done every couple of months.”

The game-changing blood test uses next-generation sequencing to quantify changes in the epigenetic tumour markers that patients continuously shed into their bloodstreams. As a result, oncologists will no longer have to wait months for imaging results, but can know within four to five days of bloodwork. They can then alter and personalize further treatment as necessary.

“A blood test is a very easy way to monitor cancer. One tube, drawn every one or two weeks, can accurately measure if a tumour is shrinking or growing, indicating whether or not the current treatment therapy is working. We’re providing a tool that allows informed decisions, ultimately leading to better outcomes for patients,” says Dr. Wiginton.

The fast turnaround test – which works for all subtypes of breast cancer and all forms of therapy, including hormone therapy and chemotherapy – also means patients who are experiencing debilitating side effects from an ineffective treatment won’t suffer longer than necessary.

From lab to market

mDetect launched its first observational clinical study in April 2023 and is recruiting 150 metastatic breast cancer patients to participate through Kingston General Hospital and Ottawa General Hospital. Based on the outcome of the trial, the next step will be Health Canada and FDA approval. The goal is to be market-ready within three years.

“I wasn’t well versed in business development when I started this journey.” says Dr. Wiginton “I came in as a scientist and now thanks to the support of Mitacs, I have the skills required to be an entrepreneur as well.”

In recognition of her work, Dr. Wiginton received the 2023 Mitacs Global Impact Entrepreneur Award. The award celebrates researchers for their efforts to turn their work into innovative businesses that impact the lives of Canadians.

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country.


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Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

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