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Like a ‘weather forecast,’ liquid biopsy predicts cancer drug resistance and tumor return

September 20, 2018

The blood reveals volumes about a person’s health, including organ function, health risks, the presence of certain diseases, and even what time it is according to your biological clock.

Liquid biopsies are emerging diagnostic tools intended to leverage the power of the blood by detecting cancer without surgery or long needles. A blood sample provides the data. A new kind of liquid biopsy is helping expand the utility of the method. It’s being compared to a weather forecast, apparently predicting both cancer drug resistance and cancer’s return.

Blood provides early signs of cancer treatment resistance

One of cancer’s many challenges is the fact that as cancerous tissue changes within a patient’s body, a drug that worked yesterday to suppress a tumor may not work tomorrow. The sooner we know, the better.

For clinicians grappling with such changes, the new liquid biopsy could provide an earlier sign that a particular drug will stop working. The test also serves as a forecast for a tumor’s return.

Math models trace cancer tumor progress

In a new research study from the UK, patients with bowel cancer gave blood samples at least every four weeks on which researchers performed tumor DNA analysis. The researchers used mathematical models to trace tumor progression. The researchers were eventually able to predict resistance to a drug called cetuximab, known as an EGFR inhibitor, and the return of the treated cancer. A key variable was change in a key cancer-related gene called RAS.

Predicting tumor return: In 75 percent of people who initially responded to cetuximab, liquid biopsies picked up changes in RAS before a CT scan was able to show that their bowel cancer had returned, according to a news release on the work.

Predicting resistance: Liquid biopsies picked out 54 percent of people with bowel cancer whose tumors already had changes in the RAS gene before they were treated with cetuximab, meaning the drug would have been unlikely to work for them.

“Our computer model used information from liquid biopsies to predict how a tumor’s genetic make-up would evolve, and estimate how long it would take for the cancer to return – in much the same way that computer models can forecast the weather,” said study co-leader Dr. Andrea Sottoriva.

Study co-leader Dr. Nicola Valeri said the work could have significant implications for treatment:

“Our study showed that liquid biopsies are better than traditional tissue biopsies at picking out people with bowel cancer whose tumors are unlikely to respond to a drug called cetuximab.

“We also found that analyzing tumor DNA from frequent blood samples, which are already taken throughout a person’s treatment, can help predict cancer’s next move.

“Forecasting how tumors will evolve in individual people with bowel cancer could open up the very exciting possibility of using liquid biopsies for personalized, adaptive treatment.”

Blood and cancer tumor samples available for research

Blood – including whole blood, plasma, serum, and buffy coat – is one of the most useful and sought-after biospecimens on the iSpecimen Marketplace. (We’ve blogged about the blood’s diagnostic value herehere and here.) Blood-derived specimens are available fresh or frozen, with or without additives, exhibiting specific analytes, and derived from patients with medical conditions—or no medical conditions at all.

A new era in biospecimen research

If you work with blood or other biospecimens in your research, join the iSpecimen Marketplace for free in just seconds. Advanced search functionality can help you find the exact specimen match you need. Request a quote for specific specimens you find, request a custom collection, or add specimens to your “Watch List.”

When you place an order, you can track it, monitor the shipment, and manage compliance documents all from your centralized Marketplace dashboard.Here’s a brief overview to show how easy it is to get started. Watch the video to learn more.