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Next-generation ‘liquid biopsy’ in works

A new technique to identify cancerous organs via a blood test may be available to health professionals in the next few years.

The approach, termed plasma DNA tissue mapping, has been likened by researchers to performing a CT scan of the blood.

Professor Rossa Chiu, a fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and the Choh Ming Li professor of chemical pathology and assistant dean (research) in the Faculty of Medicine at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said her team has developed a new technology that takes plasma cancer DNA analysis, also known as liquid biopsy, to the next level.

Chiu said: “Now, the technology is not only able to detect abnormal DNA caused by cancer, it also allows us to scan a blood sample in order to locate where (which organ) the abnormal DNA is coming from. For instance, we might be able to identify that 10 per cent of the DNA is from the liver, or in expectant mothers, 20 per cent is coming from the placenta.

“In simple terms, the technology enables us to take a CT scan of the blood, therefore we are visualising which organs of the body the abnormal DNA is coming from.”

Chiu said use of the technology in regular medical practice may be just a few years away.

While the plasma DNA tissue mapping technology still requires further improvement and is not yet ready for clinical use, the team has proven it is possible and there is a method, she said. As a result, she said the team is quite confident that it will play a role in diagnostics.

“In the data that we’ve published so far, in even the first incarnation of this technology, we were able to detect liver cancer as well as lymphoma using the same technology, so we have proven that using this technology we can detect and locate malignancies of more than one tissue already,” Chiu said.

She said the next step for her team is to improve the technology to cover more tissues. “When the technology has improved enough, we will conduct large scale, blinded clinical trials, before it can be in clinical practice.”

Chiu presented at the RCPA’s Pathology Update at the Melbourne Convention Centre and will also speak at the event tomorrow.

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