New tests aiding personalised medicine

19 October 2015

blood test could help personalise treatment for cancer patients.

Currently, tumour samples are usually routinely taken and analysed only at the beginning of treatment, meaning doctors are unable to see how the cancer evolves and responds to treatment until symptoms appear.

Using the new blood test throughout a patient’s treatment would allow a ‘running commentary’ on whether the cancer is changing and becoming resistant to treatment. The test filters out tumour DNA from a patient’s blood to be analysed for genetic faults. By clinicians having up-to-date information on genetic mutations that may be driving tumour growth, they can match these to targeted cancer treatments, improving treatment for the patient.

Study leader Professor Johann de Bono said: "We need to do more research, but this approach could have a huge impact on how we make treatment decisions, also potentially making diagnosis and treatment quicker, cheaper and less invasive".

The blood test has been tested in clinical trials of targeted drugs, proving that the test can monitor cancer simply and quickly. The team from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden in London looked at almost 160 blood samples from 39 cancer patients with different types of late stage cancer. 

Dr Kat Kerney of Cancer Research UK said: “Blood tests like these are the future of cancer treatment and this study proved that they can work in practice.”

The new cancer blood tests use techniques pioneered for non-invasive prenatal testing of small amounts of fetal DNA present in the maternal blood. A rare unexpected finding in this form of prenatal testing is the identification of cancer in the expectant mother.

Meanwhile, a new gene test could help personalise treatment for a common childhood cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.

The test, which examines the activity of five genes, is the first to be able to predict accurately which children with ‘fusion-negative’ rhabdomyosarcoma will suffer from a more negative form of the disease. The five-gene signature was developed by researchers at the ICR and has now been validated in tests of samples from 68 patients led by scientists from the Children’s Oncology Group in the US, in collaboration with the ICR.

UK study leader Professor Janet Shipley of the ICR said: "We now hope to bring our test for this gene signature to the clinic as soon as possible. Our aim is to identify these high-risk cases of rhabdomyosarcoma more quickly in the clinic, and ultimately improve treatment for these children."

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