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Pennsylvania University Develops Comprehensive Liquid Biopsy Services For Cancer Research

Liquid biopsies give fast, safe and non-surgical access to a tumor's genetic information so oncologists can more accurately diagnose and quickly treat patients


Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that liquid biopsy services - blood tests that detect materials shed from a tumour and can change the course of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

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New cancer research 

Liquid biopsies give fast, safe and non-surgical access to a tumour's genetic information so oncologists can more accurately diagnose and quickly treat patients with therapies that target their particular genetic mutations. Liquid biopsy can almost double the rate of detection for treatable mutations in non-small cell lung cancer. This offers patients more treatment options and precise care with minimal discomfort — and is a reason why liquid biopsies are rapidly becoming a cornerstone of personalized cancer medicine. "With a simple blood test, we can now get information that can change the course of a patient's cancer treatment, all without the invasiveness of a surgery," said Erica L. Carpenter, MBA, PhD, director of the Liquid Biopsy Lab. 

Other benefits of liquid biopsies include decreasing time to treat, providing real-time monitoring of therapy throughout treatment with a simple blood draw, providing an option for cancer patients unable to have a tissue biopsy, having the potential to detect cancer early, predicting when a patient may develop drug resistance and detect recurrences months earlier than conventional imaging methods, having the potential to increase cancer survival gains through precision mutation targeting. 

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Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common form of pancreatic cancer, is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths. The overall five-year survival rate is just nine per cent and most patients live less than one year following their diagnosis. One of the biggest challenges is catching the disease before it has progressed or spread. If the disease is caught early, patients may be candidates for surgery to remove cancer, which can be curative. For locally advanced patients -- meaning patients whose cancer has not spread beyond the pancreas, but who are not candidates for surgery based on the size or location of the tumour -- treatment involves three months of systemic therapy like chemo or radiation, and then reassessing to see if surgery is an option. For patients whose disease has spread, there are currently no curative treatment options.

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In a blinded test group of 47 patients (20 with PDAC, 27 who were cancer-free), the test was 92 per cent accurate in its ability to detect disease, which outperforms the best-known biomarker, CA19-9 (89 per cent), alone. The researchers then used samples from the 25 patients whose imaging showed did not have metastatic disease. The Penn test was 84 per cent accurate in determining disease staging, which is significantly higher than imaging alone (64 per cent). While the test still needs to be validated in a larger cohort, researchers say they are excited by the promise of what it could potentially mean for a patient population in need of this kind of advancement.

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