As the world adopts new technology, so does a diagnostic field of medicine often used to detect cancer – biopsy, with the result that the disease could be diagnosed much earlier, saving more lives.
Routinely, biopsy is done through tissue extraction from a patient’s body to check for the presence of a disease. This will soon come to an end, however, with a simple and cheap blood test, a new study has shown.
Patients will now have a painless and non-invasive procedure for a cancer diagnosis in the early stages of the disease when medical intervention can save their lives.
Researchers from Hebrew University in Jerusalem published their discovery in the journal Nature Biotechnology and their finding promises to not only diagnose cancer, but also other maladies such as liver and heart diseases and immune disorders.
“The test is even able to identify specific markers that may differ between patients suffering from the same types of tumorous growths, a feature that has the potential to help physicians develop personalised treatments for individual patients,” the researchers said.
Laboratory technicians will now be able to pinpoint and determine the state of the dead cells throughout the body and thereafter be in a position to diagnose various diseases. That will be based on a natural process since on a daily basis, cells in the body die and are replaced by new ones. Once those cells die, their DNA splits and bits of the dead DNA often find their way to the blood and can be detected through DNA sequencing.
Unfortunately, identifying the origin of the DNA has always been a tough nut to crack since all our cells have the same DNA sequence.
“While the DNA sequence is identical between cells, the way the DNA is organised in the cell is substantially different,” the researchers explained.
According to the study, this new method will enable laboratory technicians to read this information from DNA with precision that will be able to gauge the nature of the disease or tumour, exactly where in the body it is found and how developed it is.
“As a result of these scientific advancements, we understood that if this information is maintained within the DNA structure in the blood, we could use that data to determine the tissue source of dead cells and the genes that were active in those very cells. Based on those findings, we can uncover key details about the patient’s health,” Prof Nir Friedman, who was part of the study, explained.
An almost similar biopsy method currently in Kenya and also used to detect cancer at an early stage is the liquid biopsy. Liquid biopsy is also non-invasive. Its procedure, however, involves detecting traces of cancer found in the DNA using blood and other body fluids.
Kenya’s Lancet Laboratories Chief Executive Ahmed Kalebi says the novelty of the finding is that it is able to detect epigenetic (relating to non-genetic influences on gene expression) information outside the DNA.
“This is actually very new and different from the usual liquid biopsy that relies on detection of circulating tumour DNA (CtDNA) and cell-free DNA (cfDNA) that we currently utilise for diagnosis of cancers and genetic abnormalities, including pre-natal Down screening,” explains Dr Kalebi.
As to whether this technology will find a footing in the country, Dr Kalebi says it is still experimental.
“If it works and becomes common, then it can find application here like liquid biopsy for cancer — but that is yet to become commonplace as most doctors don’t know about that liquid biopsy using CtDNA,” he explains.
“We hope that this approach will allow for earlier diagnosis of disease and help physicians to treat patients more effectively,” said Dr Ronen Sadeh who was part of the study.