Scientists from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute have designed tests that can detect the presence of a type of brain tumor known as a glioma via a patient’s blood plasma or urine. The group notes that this test is the first of its kind globally, adding that its results, which only included a handful of patients, are promising. The research is currently in its early stages and was published in “EMBO Molecular Medicine.”
Brain tumor recurrence in individuals who have already had a brain tumor removed is high, which is why monitoring patients using an MRI scan is important. Often, physicians also conduct biopsies in addition to performing the scan.
Blood tests that help detect various types of cancer have been a major focus for researchers around the globe. These tests are primarily based on identifying cell-free DNA, which is mutated DNA that is shed by tumor cells when they perish. However, the detection of brain tumor cell-free DNA in the blood has been challenging because of the blood-brain barrier.
This barrier separates blood from the cerebrospinal fluid (“CSF”), which surrounds the spinal cord and brain, hindering the passage of cells and particles like cell-free DNA. This is why the researchers, led by Dr. Richard Mair of the University of Cambridge and Dr. Florent Mouliere of the Rosenfeld Lab at the Cambridge institute, helped develop a pair of approaches that could be used to overcome the difficulties of detecting brain tumor cell-free DNA.
The first of the two approaches works for patients who have undergone brain tumor removal and biopsy. The researchers developed a tumor-guided sequencing test whose purpose was to identify mutations found in the tumor tissue in the patient’s blood plasma, cerebrospinal fluid and urine.
For this approach, the researchers discovered that it was possible to identify mutations even in minute amounts of cell-free DNA in the urine and blood plasma. Of the eight patients who were studied under this approach, the researchers were able to detect cell-free DNA in their urine, blood plasma and cerebrospinal fluid samples.
The second approach involved the scientists looking for other patterns in cell-free DNA that could indicate a tumor’s presence, without identifying the mutations. For this approach, they conducted an analysis of samples obtained from 26 healthy individuals, 27 patients with nonmalignant brain conditions and 35 glioma patients.
Using genome sequencing, they discovered fragments of cell-free DNA in both urine and blood samples, noting that the fragments that came from brain tumor patients were different in size in comparison with those from patients who didn’t have tumors.
The scientists propose that in the future, these tests could be used to monitor patients who have a high risk of brain tumors; this method would be more convenient in comparison to undergoing an MRI every three months, which is the current monitoring method.
As screening and testing for brain cancers is being improved, so are advancements being made in the quest to improve treatment. For example, CNS Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: CNSP) is developing organ-targeted therapeutics that, once approved, will offer better clinical outcomes to patients.
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