MAR 24, 2020 5:51 AM PDT

Ultra sensitive cancer diagnostic detects DNA "fingerprints" in liquid biopsies

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Researchers from the Broad and Dana-Farber Cancer Institutes have developed a diagnostic technology that can be used to monitor patients for the presence of recurring cancer cells after receiving treatment. This “liquid biopsy” screening platform is so sensitive, that it can detect metastatic cancer cells years before they would show up using traditional techniques.

The retrospective study, published in Clinical Cancer Research, tracked banked blood samples from breast cancer patients in the years following their initial diagnosis and treatment. Nearly 30 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer will develop metastatic disease, as a result of cancer cells breaking away from the original tumor in the breast and migrating to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system.

Senior author Viktor Adalsteinsson and his team first used whole-exome DNA sequencing to identify the unique DNA “fingerprint” from the tumors isolated from each of the 142 patients in the study. Significantly, the researchers found trace amounts of these cancer DNA sequences in the patients’ blood samples up to three years before metastatic cancer recurrence was picked up using standard diagnostic approaches.

“By taking an individualized approach — searching for many mutations that are specific to one patient’s cancer — we could greatly increase our sensitivity to detect traces of cancer DNA in patients who had completed their initial treatment plan,” explained Adalsteinsson.

“And with that sensitivity, we could identify residual cancer from blood samples taken many months to years before a recurring case was diagnosed through standard approaches.”

Future studies are going to employ whole-genome sequencing to boost the test’s sensitivity by collecting more genetic information about the patient’s tumor. In whole-genome sequencing, large amounts of DNA are sequenced at a single time, allowing researchers to perform a more in-depth characterization of the patient’s entire genome. 

With this technology, cancer patients would be able to receive more timely interventions should their cancer return or residual malignant cells be present after their initial treatment.

According to Adalsteinsson, “When we did detect residual disease in blood, following initial courses of treatment, it was a strong predictor of future recurrence. While this was a retrospective study, if a blood biopsy can give clinicians this early warning in real-time, that might provide the opportunity to alter a patient’s outcome.”

 

 


Source: The Harvard Gazette, Clinical Cancer Research.

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
JAN 28, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
A $5 Test Detects Colon Cancer Before Symptoms Appear
JAN 28, 2021
A $5 Test Detects Colon Cancer Before Symptoms Appear
Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that their new colorectal cancer diagnostic test effectively catches ...
JAN 26, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Why Only Some People With a Rare Mutation Get a Heart Condition
JAN 26, 2021
Why Only Some People With a Rare Mutation Get a Heart Condition
Scientists have found a way to explain why a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) can be so differen ...
MAR 09, 2021
Cardiology
A Lifestyle Change Could Reduce a Diabetic's Cardiovascular Risk
MAR 09, 2021
A Lifestyle Change Could Reduce a Diabetic's Cardiovascular Risk
Nowadays, everyone thinks there is a pill or gummy that will fix everything. That may be true for the occasional headach ...
MAR 23, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
AI Test Distinguishes Cancer Cells From Healthy Ones Based on Acidity Levels
MAR 23, 2021
AI Test Distinguishes Cancer Cells From Healthy Ones Based on Acidity Levels
Researchers have developed a new way of differentiating cancer cells from healthy ones—by how acidic they are. The ...
APR 19, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Better Disease Risk Predictions May Come From Ancestry Data, Not Race
APR 19, 2021
Better Disease Risk Predictions May Come From Ancestry Data, Not Race
Researchers have suggested that it's time for medicine to move away from demographic labels that are too narrow to captu ...
APR 27, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
No Batteries: Health Sensor Harvests Biomechanical Energy
APR 27, 2021
No Batteries: Health Sensor Harvests Biomechanical Energy
An international team of researchers has developed a wearable health monitor that works without the need for batteries. ...
Loading Comments...