According to recent research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, a change in strategy in genetics testing involving pancreatic cancer might lead to a simpler and more effective diagnostic. The findings come from the work of Raghu Kalluri, M.D., Ph.D., chairman and professor in MD Anderson’s Department of Cancer Biology, whose research was recently published in the current online edition of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Dr. Kalluri’s research suggests that a simple blood test could be developed and used to make the determination of whether gene mutations associated with pancreatic cancer exist without the need of locating and testing tumor tissue. This revelation comes as a result of the discovery of exosome particles that are shed by cancer cells into the blood in fact contain all of the genetic information that researchers needs to analyze cancer cells. Since this information is easier to obtain than from testing tumor tissue, scientists may now be able to Bdecode the genomic data in exosomes and find deletions and mutations associated with cancer.
“At the present time, there is no single blood test that can screen for all cancer related DNA defects,” said Kalluri. “In many cases, current protocols require a tumor sample to determine whether gene mutations and deletions exist and therefore determine whether the tumor itself is cancerous or benign. To procure tumor tissue, one needs to know that a tumor exists and if so, is it accessible for sample collection or removal? Finally, there are always risks and significant costs associated with surgical procedures to acquire tumor tissue.”
Historically, researchers were aware these miniscule particles existed and that they carried nucleic acids and proteins. It was also believed that exosomes carried small portions of the person’s DNA. However, upon further investigation, the MD Anderson research team was surprised to learn that the person’s entire double-stranded genomic DNA spanning all chromosomes can be found in exosomes, including those mutated chromosomes that cause various cancers. Furthermore, Kalluri and colleagues discovered that DNA derived from exosomes carried the same cancer-related genetic mutations compared to the cancer cells taken from tumor.
Dr. Kalluri commented that, ”Because different forms of cancer are associated with different chromosomal mutations , we believe analysis of exosome DNA taken from blood samples may not only help determine the presence of a cancerous tumor somewhere in the body but also identify mutations without a need for tumor sample,” adding that, “We also believe this “fingerprint” will help lead us to the likely site of the tumor in the body. For instance, certain mutation spectrums would suggest pancreatic cancer or a brain-based tumor. While there is much more work to be conducted to develop such a test, having a tool such as this would increase our abilities to detect cancer in an earlier stage and therefore increase our chances of effective treatment.”
MD Anderson President Ronald A. DePinho, M.D. sees great promise in the findings: ”This seminal discovery paves the way for highly sensitive screening for driver mutations of cancer in the blood without the need for biopsy of tumor tissue and importantly, lays the foundation for a new method for the early detection of cancer when the chance for cure is greatest.”