Researchers have discovered that the genetic material in the form of RNA in platelets changes under the influence of a tumor
Refinement of a new technique now makes it possible to trace 18 types of cancer. Using this technique (thromboSeq), cancer patterns in the RNA of platelets have already been discovered in a previous study. Cancer patients benefit from early detection of the tumor because treatment results are more favorable for less advanced cancers. ‘Further research is necessary, but the results of this study are promising’, says Sjors In ‘t Veld, PhD candidate at the Department of Neurosurgery and the Brain Tumor Center in Amsterdam at Amsterdam UMC.
The researchers have discovered that the genetic material in the form of RNA in platelets changes under the influence of a tumor. Tumors secrete molecules into the bloodstream. This causes changes in the blood. The platelets in the blood can also react to the presence of tumors. The platelets are normally responsible for blood clotting. In the cancer process, the platelets are used by the tumor to metastasize through the bloodstream. An earlier study showed that the thromboSeq technique could detect six types of cancer. Subsequently, the technique was further refined, among other things by adding artificial intelligent algorithms with which the changes in the platelets can be read even more accurately.
Recognizing healthy people
This latest study, published in the top scientific journal Cancer Cell, examined the blood of more than 2,300 people. The blood samples were collected in 13 research institutes in an international collaboration consisting of more than 100 scientists. The thromboSeq blood test has been further developed in this study to recognize a universal ‘platelet cancer pattern’. With this new blood test, the researchers have emphasized the correct recognition of healthy people with minimal false positive test results. And with success, the test recognizes 99% of healthy people as healthy. In addition, the newly developed test tracks the presence of cancer in approximately two-thirds of more than 1,000 stage I-IV cancer patients and in half of 352 stage I-III tumors.
Location of the tumor
If someone has a positive blood test for cancer, this result must be confirmed with further tests, such as a scan or tissue biopsy. ‘In order to select the correct follow-up test, the blood test must indicate where the tumor is located in the body,’ explains In ‘t Veld. The thromboSeq blood test has also been shown to accurately identify the location of the tumor. This offers the possibility to use the follow-up tests in a more targeted manner.
The thromboSeq test is still in a development phase. For example, previous studies have shown that the RNA in the platelets also changes in patients with other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a certain form of high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension). In the current study, it appears that patients with conditions other than cancer are more often mistakenly seen as cancer patients by the thromboSeq blood test. ‘The test will have to be further developed on this basis’, says Myron Best, researcher physician at the Neurosurgery Department and research leader of this study together with Tom Würdinger. ‘The interesting thing about this is that the use of artificial intelligence improves the test as more information is presented to the computer.’ The test should also be tested in even larger patient groups, for example in people who have a higher chance of developing cancer due to an underlying genetic abnormality.
Amsterdam UMC Liquid Biopsy Center
The Amsterdam UMC Liquid Biopsy Center has been collecting blood samples from cancer patients who are being treated at Amsterdam UMC for several years now. This blood is used for various ongoing scientific studies, including the further development of thromboSeq. The current research was funded, among others, by the STOPHersentumoren.nl Foundation, the Marie-Curie ITN European Liquid Biopsy Academy and the KWF. The researchers are currently seeking additional grants to continue the research.
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