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Human Biofluids: Fueling Liquid Biopsies for Non-Invasive Cancer Detection

July 11, 2019

blood sample tube

Biofluids – including blood, plasma, saliva, urine and even cheek swabs – can tell us a lot about a person’s health, which is why patients are routinely asked to provide these samples in the lab for testing. With a small amount of blood, for example, complex testing and screening of its chemistry, enzymes, lipoproteins and clotting can be performed. Because of their potency as a health barometer, whole blood and plasma are among the human biospecimens our clients demand most.

Medicine, however, is essentially just getting started when it comes to bringing liquid biopsy products to market.

Liquid biopsy is a red hot field of diagnostic development, a market that will reach $9 billion by 2026, by one estimate. Researchers are working to use human biofluids to detect various types of cancer earlier, often before the appearance of symptoms that would trigger a tissue biopsy or show up in a scan. Liquid biopsies would also help clinicians understand how tumors are changing after treatment and which tumors will likely respond to treatment.

Less costly, cumbersome and invasive than surgical biopsies, liquid biopsies would look at circulating tumor DNA and other molecules shed by cancer cells for signs of cancer. The first FDA-approved liquid biopsy detects certain gene mutations in non-small lung cancer patients.

Liquid biopsy research progresses

Companies like Thrive and Grail are making headway in the space announcing new findings indicating detection of deadly cancers. Thrive’s test, CancerSEEK, recently found 98 percent of people who had ovarian cancer and about 70 percent of people with pancreatic cancer in research on 1,800 people. It’s early, however: Bloomberg declared the holy grail, a liquid biopsy to detect all cancers, “out of reach for 2019.”

Artificial intelligence has also been playing a promising role in the development of liquid biopsies, with tests being “trained” to detect the presence of cancers. The list of sought-after biofluids is continually expanding as well. For example, researchers are drawing fluid from the spine to better understand class of brain tumors called gliomas.

Much work remains for liquid biopsy development

As is common for medical advancements in their early stages, ample development, validation and troubleshooting remains before liquid biopsy becomes pervasive. The sweet spots for liquid biopsy solutions will continue to emerge while some forms of cancer testing will be ruled out. For example, some cancers that are asymptomatic and can’t be detected in other ways may never cause the patient a problem, meaning liquid biopsy opens the door to overtreatment. Other cancers may be unstoppable even if detected early. And the presence of tumor DNA in the blood doesn’t automatically tell clinicians where in the body they can find that cancer.

“The progress of the technology is impressive,” Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, the acting chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told STAT for an article on Grail. “We will get there. But we still have to prove the technology, and we still have to learn how to apply the technology.”

Human biofluids in growing demand

iSpecimen has been playing a key role in liquid biopsy development by providing researchers with the human biofluids they need to conduct their work. Whether researchers need biofluids from patients with specific medical histories, with specific laboratory test results, or from healthy/normal donors, iSpecimen can help. Biofluids are available across a range of specimen types—and customized to meet specific processing and quick-turnaround delivery requirements. Biofluids offered include (but are not limited to): whole blood, urine, plasma (including double-spun), stool, serum, CSF, buffy coat, saliva, nasal, cheek, cervical, and other swabbed material. View full capabilities and case studies here.

We’re committed to supplying researchers with the human biospecimens they need to quickly and cost-effectively advance their work, and to helping our supplier partners efficiently distribute their specimens to the researchers who need them. Because cancer doesn’t wait.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.