December 12, 2017
2 min read

Cancer Institute funds blood test for early pancreatic cancer detection

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The National Cancer Institute’s Pancreatic Cancer Detection Consortium has awarded a $5.13 million grant to researchers from Baylor Scott & White Research Institute and the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which are developing a blood test for early detection of pancreatic cancer.

The availability of such a “non-invasive, rapid, accurate and inexpensive blood test” could “profoundly transform early detection of pancreatic cancer,” which is often not detected until late in the disease process, and is currently the third-leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S., according to a press release.

“Early detection of this disease is essential to reducing its mortality rate,” Ajay Goel, PhD, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute’s director of the Center for Gastrointestinal Research, and the Center for Epigenetics, Cancer Prevention and Cancer Genomics, said in the press release.

The 5-year grant will fund the development of an “early-warning system for pancreatic cancer” in the form of a liquid biopsy test that requires only a small blood sample, which would enable more frequent monitoring of at-risk patients, and alert physicians to otherwise undetectable cancer recurrence. Biomarkers for high-risk precancerous lesions and early-stage pancreatic cancer could help identify candidates for surgical or other interventions.

“It would be a powerful contrast to the way things are,” Sunil Sharma, MD, TGen Deputy Director of Clinical Sciences, said in the press release. “By the time a cancer becomes obvious, when it becomes symptomatic and a patient comes to a clinic, by that point the cancer is already a moving target. It makes little sense to guide treatment of a moving target using tests with a traditional biopsy because that biopsy is static in time and space.”

The project will focus on achieving three initial goals: first, investigators plan to collect matched blood and tissue samples to identify signals of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), precancerous neoplasms, pancreatitis and normal pancreatic cells. Then they plan to develop a testing panel that can differentiate patients with PDAC from those with precancerous neoplasms or pancreatitis, and finally, they will perform clinical trials to prospectively identify patients with these conditions using the optimal testing panel.

“What we are working on here, it’s not going to be one or two markers, but a panel of markers — a full mixture of DNA, proteins, RNA, microRNA, DNA methylation markers,” Goel said in the press release. “This panel would be a more reliable, more sensitive, and more specific pancreatic screening than anything that’s available in medicine today.”

“We need a mammogram for the pancreas. Just like breast cancer, if pancreatic cancer is detected early, we can provide better outcomes for patients, and eventually have cures,” Daniel Von Hoff, MD, TGen Distinguished Professor and physician-in-chief, said in the press release.

The strategy could also eventually be used to detect and monitor other types of cancers, according to Von Hoff. “We would know very soon if a particular drug or drug combination is working, or not,” he noted in the press release.

Disclosures: Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease was unable to confirm any relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.