A blood test can study the DNA of prostate cancer
A 5 to 10 milliliter tube of blood can contain thousands of copies of the cancer genome, the research team says.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia have developed a blood test that uses genetic sequencing to study the DNA of cancer cells in patients with prostate cancer.
We've managed to get a much clearer picture of what happens when a person has cancer, says Dr. Alex Wyatt, principal investigator of the Vancouver Prostate Centre.
He adds that knowing the DNA of a cancer using a vial of blood would make it possible to avoid biopsies which can be painful, but also to have more suitable treatments for patients.
We can have two individuals with precisely the same type of cancer, but who can be genetically very different. This may explain why one person will have a very progressive cancer, while the other's will be less aggressive, says Dr. Wyatt.
The next step will be to determine whether targeted treatment based on prostate cancer DNA, established by a blood test, will benefit the patient and be more effective in fighting disease.
The true value of a blood test is also inclusiveness. A person from a rural community who doesn't have access to a major hospital to do a biopsy could send a vial of blood in the mail to be analyzed at a center, Dr. Wyatt argues.
For the moment, the researcher and his team, including around twenty students, have focused their study on around forty men with prostate cancer. Dr. Wyatt hopes the new blood test can be applied to other types of cancer.
The research data has also been published in open source. Both the code and the data and the procedure can be taken over by other scientists so that the research can be pursued in other ways.
According to Stuart Edmonds, senior vice-president of mission, research and public interest at the Canadian Cancer Society, there is no doubt that this research will have implications for other types of cancer.
When I read the study, I was very excited to see the progress we are making in cancer research, he says.
He points out that, to cure prostate cancer, a bone biopsy is currently needed, because metastases are often found there. As this procedure is very complex, painful and invasive, a blood test would be a real game-changer.
The key with this study is that we can determine very quickly, by observing the DNA of the cancer in the blood, when it will become resistant to treatment. Then we can stop this treatment to prevent the patient from being medicated for nothing and start another treatment, explains Stuart Edmonds.
Now that the method for detecting prostate cancer DNA has been determined, Dr. Alex Wyatt's team needs to get to clinical trials.
This is the next step. Can having this information really help the patient? We think so, but we have to prove it, concludes the researcher.