Use of Liquid Biopsies as Cancer Biomarkers
CBCEL - CANCER BIOMARKERS & CELLULAR ENDOCRINOLOGY LAB
Ovarian cancer (OC) affects over 65,500 women every year in Europe alone, and within five years 70% will die. It is the 2nd most common gynaecological cancer, just behind breast cancer, and the 6th leading cause of death in women. Throughout the European countries €1.86 billion are spent treating OC patients with most cost occurring in the final weeks of life. OC is known as the “silent killer” as it causes no symptoms in the early stages so is difficult to detect. Even when advanced, the symptoms are very vague. Recurrent OC (ROC) is where this cancer has come back after patients have had their first treatments (usually surgery and chemotherapy. Up to 90% of patients with OC will relapse/recur, some within a few months of initial treatment others many years later. It is not clear why there is this variation in relapse. Research based on cancer cells in the blood, such as Circulating Tumour Cells (CTCs) has generated much interest, opening the potential to a `Liquid Biopsy' option, as an alternative to a conventional tissue biopsy; thus allowing a better routine monitoring system, and robust genetic characterisation of the cancer. CTCs are cells that invade into the bloodstream from the primary tumours in the abdominal cavity. These cells are different to normal circulating blood cells and express tumour-specific characteristics. CTCs are of prognostic value in various cancers, but the value of CTCs in ovarian cancer is still under investigation.
The concept of tumour and cancer profiling from blood components is an exciting field, opening the potential to solve many issues currently surrounding cancer diagnosis/prognosis and treatment. At CBCEL we have teamed up with numerous hospitals to study the clinical benefits of liquid biopsies. The aim of this project is to develop a practical, inexpensive and reliable method for identifying and quantifying CTCs, isolating them and extracting RNA for genetic analysis. The examination of the genetic material of the ovary cancer CTCs will help us understand what changes might be occurring. We then will be in a position to exploit these changes and introduce tailored treatments.
The provision of a valid test will provide enormous benefit to the healthcare system and patients since identification of biomarkers from a blood test to assess response to therapies for ROC patients will reduce the number of scans they require. It will also allow the detection of ineffective treatment earlier, minimising toxic effects from futile treatments.
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