Detecting non-small cell lung cancer in its early stages could soon be as easy as getting a blood test in a routine checkup. A group of researchers is taking advantage of the advances in biomarker technology with a test that could improve outcomes for patients with one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths.
The test being developed by a team led by The Wistar Institute Professor Louise C. Showe secured a $1 million grant over a two-year period from the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Universal Research Enhancement program to advance the test to the commercial development stage, according to a statement from Wistar. The program taps a fund for healthcare research started with money from the state’s tobacco settlement.
The test takes a snapshot of gene activity in blood-borne immune cells using a process referred to as microarray analysis. Although microarray analysis has been around for years, advances in biomarker detection have helped fine-tune the process. “The initial test involved separating the white blood cells to identify the relevant biomarker making the process cumbersome for clinical settings,” Showe said. “The new approach simply involves placing whole blood samples into collection tubes in which the RNA is immediately stabilized and can then be shipped for analysis.”
Showe, who is a professor in Wistar’s molecular and cellular oncology program and director of Wistar’s genomics and bioinformatics facilities, said the diagnostic test got positive results in a proof of principle trial of 200 samples from volunteers. Its clinical partners include the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center at the Christiana Care Health System and Temple University Health System.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 226,160 people will be diagnosed with non small and small cell lung cancer in 2012 and 160,340 will die from the disease this year. Although the prognosis for lung cancer is best at the early stages, it is frequently not diagnosed until the cancer has advanced to later stages at which point the prognosis is much poorer.
Blood tests are being explored as a viable way to detect cancer early for breast cancer and pancreatic cancer, among others, in order to improve patient outcomes and ultimately improve survival rates.
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