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Ovarian Cancer Blood Test Appears Close

November 7, 2017

blood test

Ovarian cancer often goes undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage, which helps explain why only about 1 in 4 patients will survive for at least five years after diagnosis. No FDA-approved screening tests exist.

Researchers in Boston, however, have developed a new blood test offering promising results. Their test focuses on microRNAs – noncoding genetic material – that circulate in the blood. Ovarian cancer cells have different microRNA profiles from normal cells.

Using microRNA data from blood samples, researchers used machine learning to develop predictive models and identified one that most accurately distinguished ovarian cancer from benign tissue.

“When we train a computer to find the best microRNA model, it’s a bit like identifying constellations in the night sky. At first, there are just lots of bright dots, but once you find a pattern, wherever you are in the world, you can pick it out,” said Kevin Elias, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Investigators at the hospital teamed with colleagues from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He is lead author of the findings published online at eLife.

The test is reportedly showing impressive accuracy. In a trial in Poland, 91.3 percent of the abnormal test results accurately detected ovarian cancer cases – a very low false positive rate, researchers reported. Negative test results reliably predicted absence of cancer about 80 percent of the time, which is comparable to the accuracy of a Pap smear test for cervical cancer.

Once again, biospecimens – in this case, blood samples – played a central role in enabling researchers to conduct their work.

To move the diagnostic tool out of the lab and into the clinic, the research team says it will need to verify how the microRNA signature changes over time as risk of ovarian cancer increases. To do so, they will need to use longitudinally collected samples following women over time.

These are just the kinds of needs we address through the iSpecimen Marketplace. Researchers can order a wide range of banked or prospectively collected biospecimens filtered by a diverse list of traits, including cancer diagnoses. The goal is to accelerate progress by quickly and efficiently providing researchers with the specimens they need from the health care organizations that have them.

We wish our Boston neighbors success with this work so that in the future, diagnoses come earlier and patients live longer.

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