The blood test could form the basis of a new screening program for people at risk. (Credit: Getty)
A ‘Holy Grail’ Blood Test That Can Diagnose Any Type cancer years before symptoms appear may be on the horizon.
Scientists have discovered a protein that is released in the early stages of the disease, when tumors are most curable.
It is produced by a gene called KRAS – the most common mutation in all tumors, including lung, colon and pancreas.
The breakthrough offers hope for a simple screening program for people at risk, such as older or genetically susceptible people.
It works by looking for chemical changes in fragments of genetic code that leak into the bloodstream from tumors.
Lead author Dr. Daniel Kim, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, said, “The sooner you find out that someone has cancer, the more likely he or she will survive through treatment and surgery.
“Millions of people worldwide die from cancer every year, and there is an urgent need to develop highly sensitive and specific diagnostic tests that can detect cancer early, before it has spread to other parts of the body.”
The KRAS gene regulates RNA (ribonucleic acid) – molecules that ‘translate’ instructions encoded in our DNA.
It works by looking for chemical changes in fragments of genetic code that leak into the bloodstream from tumors. (Credit: Getty)
Lab experiments showed that cancer-causing variants mistakenly activate others – which can be detected in the blood through sequencing or mapping.
dr. Kim believes it is a promising tool for diagnosing cancer in its earliest stages.
This can be done through a minimally invasive technique called “liquid biopsy” instead of traditional tumor tissue surgery.
Some tumors shed DNA into the blood long before a person starts having symptoms.
Every year around 360,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer – equivalent to nearly 1,000 cases a day.
In petri dishes, the researchers introduced mutant KRAS into healthy lung cells, leaving them in a cancerous state.
They performed RNA sequencing using different methods. Computer simulations identified common RNA compared to control cells.
Additional epigenomic profiling looked at how genes are turned on or off without changes in the DNA sequence itself.
Other tests identified which RNAs are packaged in extracellular vesicles and secreted preferentially by cancer cells affected by mutant KRAS.
About 360,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with cancer every year. (Credit: Getty)
First author Roman Reggiardo, a PhD student in Dr. Kim’s lab, said, “We were in an interdisciplinary environment that really encouraged us to think about RNA and cancer in a different way.”
The researchers plan to confirm the results by analyzing blood samples from lung cancer patients.
They hope to develop a test that can detect these RNA signatures as biomarkers for early diagnosis of lung cancer.
In addition, they expect that this will lead to a framework for the development of an RNA liquid biopsy platform for early detection of multiple cancers.
dr. Kim added: “Knowing the RNA signatures of this very early cancer event will help us develop new methods for early cancer detection that will hopefully help save many lives in the future.”
A one size fits all test is considered a “holy grail” of cancer research. It would strengthen rather than replace the screening programs currently run by the NHS, such as those for breast and cervical cancer.
It can also be particularly effective in finding tumors that are difficult to identify at an early stage, such as those of the gut, lung, pancreas, throat, and ovaries.
The study was published in the journal Mobile Reports.
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