A metabolite, that has never been found in mammals before, and may allow urine tests to detect a type of liver cancer, has been discovered by scientists.

Currently, there is no definitive urine test for any type of cancer. The majority of patients are diagnosed through surgery, ultrasound scans, or blood tests, which necessitate a hospital visit.

Researchers at the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research in Scotland now have discovered a metabolite in mice that could lead to the development of a new urine test to detect the beta-catenin mutated form of liver cancer, reports BBC.

Dr. Saverio Tardito, the lead researcher on the project, said the number of people with liver cancer was expected to rise and new tools to detect and treat it earlier were needed.

“We were excited to discover this new metabolite which had never been described before in mammals,” Tardito was quoted as saying.

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“It is a good candidate for diagnostic testing as it’s specific to a particular type of liver cancer, can be easily detected in urine, and could potentially be used as a marker to monitor the growth of tumors,” he added.

A team studying glutamine synthetase, a protein known to be prevalent in liver cancer, discovered the potential for the test, according to the report. It discovered a new metabolite not previously identified in mammals while studying this enzyme in normal liver tissue from mice.

The metabolite, N5-methylglutamine, was also found in urine when the cancer-promoting mutation of the gene beta-catenin was present, suggesting that it could be used to identify patients with this type of cancer, the report added.

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“We now plan further studies to investigate how early in liver cancer the metabolite appears, to identify how early a urine test could reliably diagnose the disease,” said Tardito.