A single blood test could one day be used to detect a variety of cancers, results from a preliminary trial suggest.
The past few years have seen a bevy of experimental tests called liquid biopsies that hold the promise of detecting and tracking tumours from a simple blood draw. Many of these tests are designed to detect a single kind of cancer by spotting tumour-associated mutations in DNA sequences found floating freely in the blood.
The latest study, published on 18 January in Science1, is unusual in that it tests not only for these DNA mutations, but also for aberrant levels of certain proteins, in an effort to detect eight different cancers. The test was able to detect disease in about 70% of more than 1,000 people who had already been diagnosed with cancer.
The researchers hope that their work could eventually lead to a test that is simpler and cheaper than the intensive sequencing involved in some other liquid biopsies. "They end up with performance that is similar to other approaches, but with what looks to be a much more cost-effective approach," says Nitzan Rosenfeld, a cancer researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK.
Many groups in academia and industry have focused on using liquid biopsies to track cancer progression and to guide physicians as they formulate a treatment plan.
But oncologist Nickolas Papadopoulos at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, and his colleagues wanted to develop a test that could detect cancers early, when they are easier to treat.