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
OCT 13, 2020
Cardiology
A Kidney Toxin Could Act as a Biomarker for Cardiovascular Risk
OCT 13, 2020
A Kidney Toxin Could Act as a Biomarker for Cardiovascular Risk
Biomarkers have taken the diagnostic field by storm over the past decade. The search for stable, easy to access indicato ...
OCT 22, 2020
Cardiology
Using Liposomes to Deliver Repair Packages to the Heart
OCT 22, 2020
Using Liposomes to Deliver Repair Packages to the Heart
The secret to any successful drug is not just its ability to treat a disease but its ability to target the disease exclu ...
DEC 03, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Spit Contains Concussion Clues
DEC 03, 2020
Spit Contains Concussion Clues
Drowsiness, confusion, headaches, and sensitivity to light — it’s sometimes hard for doctors to spot the sig ...
DEC 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Feeling Unmotivated? It Could Be Dementia.
DEC 24, 2020
Feeling Unmotivated? It Could Be Dementia.
Apathy, characterized by a pronounced lack of enthusiasm, motivation, or interest, is a predictor of the future onset of ...
DEC 30, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Of Mice and Men: Deep Learning Transforms Diagnostics
DEC 30, 2020
Of Mice and Men: Deep Learning Transforms Diagnostics
Medical imaging technologies enable physicians to take a peek under the hood, capturing snapshots of the internal organs ...
JAN 12, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
Portable Sequencer Ensures All the Cancer Cells Are Gone
JAN 12, 2021
Portable Sequencer Ensures All the Cancer Cells Are Gone
Surgeons remove a tumor from the abdominal cavity of a patient. But how can they be certain that all the cancer cells we ...
Loading Comments...