New Liquid Biopsy Detects Cancer at Earlier Stages Than Currently Possible

The test can pick up several types of cancer, including pancreatic and ovarian, years before symptoms appear.

Jun 1, 2018
Jim Daley

WIKIMEDIA, ANTHONY ZANE


A new liquid biopsy test could detect cancer years before symptoms are apparent, according to research presented today (June 1) at the American Society of Clinical Oncologists (ASCO) meeting in Chicago. The test—a noninvasive blood draw followed by DNA screening—could lead to dramatic changes in cancer treatment, say researchers.


“This is potentially the holy grail of cancer research, to find cancers that are currently hard to cure at an earlier stage when they are easier to cure, and we hope this test could save many lives,” lead author Eric Klein, an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, tells The Telegraph. The test “gives us the opportunity to find them months or years before someone would develop symptoms and be diagnosed.”


Klein’s research team collected 1,627 blood draws from 878 patients with untreated, newly diagnosed cancer and 749 healthy controls. Three DNA tests were used to screen the samples. Of them, the assay that used whole-genome bisulfate sequencing had the highest sensitivity, being able to spot cancers 90 percent of the time. This technique uses sodium bisulfate before sequencing to convert unmethylated cytosine bases to uracil bases and assesses cytosine methylation [why is this worth mentioning? You could take out this detail and just say The most sensitive test…].


Together, the three tests were able to detect 10 different types of cancer, including colorectal, esophageal, lung, pancreatic, and ovarian. They were less effective at detecting stomach, uterine, and early-stage prostate cancer, according to the ASCO abstract.


The liquid biopsy is not yet ready for the clinic, according to the researchers, but its development marks a significant advance in the fight against cancer, says Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England who was not involved in the study. Stevens tells The Guardian “new techniques” such as cancer blood tests could “unlock enormous survival gains,” for cancer patients. “[W]e stand on the cusp of a new era of personalized medicine that will dramatically transform care for cancer and for inherited and rare diseases.”