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Research cancer: a blood test to determine the right treatment

Research cancer: a blood test to determine the right treatment

Tumor DNA from cancer cells can be detected in small amounts in the blood: This is called circulating tumor DNA. Researchers have developed a blood test that allows detailed analysis. Such a test could be used to determine the most appropriate treatment for a given patient.

In developing blood tests to detect tumors, researchers explored the possibility of determining the most appropriate treatment for each patient. "With just a few drops of blood, we can find out important information about a person's disease and the best cancer treatment," says Alexander Wyatt, co-author of the study published in Nature and a researcher at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) and BC Cancer. "This test has the potential to help physicians select more appropriate treatment options and more effectively identify treatment resistance so they can adjust clinical care as needed.

To do this, the team took blood samples from patients with metastatic prostate cancer, an advanced form of cancer that has spread to other organs in the body. This form of cancer is often incurable despite chemotherapy and targeted treatments. Metastatic tumors are complex and our knowledge is limited," Wyatt explains. While conventional biopsies provide only a small snapshot of the disease, this new test can provide a more complete picture of metastases throughout the body, with a simple and easy-to-perform blood test.

Research cancer a blood test to determine the right treatment
When cancer spreads to other organs, it becomes metastatic. The cure is very uncertain for this type of cancer. ©  Kateryna Kon, Fotolia 

Genome sequencing of circulating tumor DNA.

After the samples were collected, the researchers performed whole genome sequencing of circulating tumor DNA, specifically "deep sequencing of the whole genome in serial plasma and synchronous metastases." They found a lot of information about metastases, which are tumor cells located far from the primary site. In particular, they uncovered the developmental history, i.e., how cancer spread throughout the patient's body. By comparing this to the treatments patients had undergone, they were able to draw conclusions about which treatments were effective and which were not. The technique can be applied to other cancers to understand how tumors spread and ultimately escape treatment," Wyatt explains. It will also help us develop the next generation of cancer therapies that fight resistant diseases more effectively. 

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