A Simple Blood Test Could Locate Tumors

March 14, 2019
Cancer changes the DNA of certain cells, so when they pass through the blood stream, they can be detected and help locate tumors.

Early detection of cancerous tumors continues to be one of the main challenges for the medical community. Can you imagine that a simple blood test could locate tumors?

Despite advances, there are still difficulties when it comes to specialized tests when doctors suspect the disease.

Currently, there are clinical exams and tests that allow you to identify the presence of malignant cells. This is especially easy to do when they have reached the most advanced stage.

Among these tests, blood tests have been very effective. After all, they can detect the presence of cancer by identifying the DNA that tumor cells make when they die. However, these are very superficial tests. After all, they don’t let you know exactly where the tumor is.

Surprisingly, however, this situation is about to change. This is thanks to a new technological advancement by a group of bioengineers at the University of California, San Diego.

These experts have been able to develop a new kind of blood test. This test not only detects cancer but also localizes where the disease is.

The new analysis promises an earlier diagnosis. At the same time, it may help patients avoid invasive surgical procedures.

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Locate Tumors with a Blood Test: The Study

Blood test samples analysis locate tumors via cells in bloodstream

The bioengineers at the University of California have developed a new blood test. Overall, this one is different from tests that already exist. It will be able to detect cancer earlier and more precisely.

The results were published in the journal Nature GeneticsThe significance of this breakthrough stands out when talking about fighting this dangerous disease.

In the study, they found that when a tumor starts to grow in a certain part of your body, the malignant cells compete with healthy cells for nutrients and space. In this process, cells start to die.

The DNA in the dying cells are passed through your bloodstream. This can help facilitate the detection of the tissues that are being attacked and therefore locate tumors.

Locate tumors with a simple blood test taking blood in a surgery

They discovered DNA signatures for different types of cells, which was key for identifying what part of the body the tumor was in. In addition, they discovered the methylation alleles CpG inside the DNA molecules. This is unparalleled science when it comes to being able to locate tumors.

A Unique Cellular Identity

In general, scientists can identify each body tissue according to their unique signature of methylation alleles.

Kun Zhang, professor of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego and head researcher of the study, explained:

“We made this discovery by accident.  Initially, we were taking the conventional approach and just looking for cancer cell signals and trying to find out where they were coming from, however, we were also seeing signals from other cells and realized that if we integrated both sets of signals together, we could actually determine the presence or absence of a tumor, and where the tumor is growing.”

To try the method, the researchers created a database. In this database, they included all of the CpG methylation patterns in the body’s organs. This included the:

  • Liver
  • Intestines
  • Colon
  • Lungs
  • Brain
  • Kidneys
  • Spleen
  • Pancreas
  • Blood
Cancer cells and red blood cells in the blood locate tumors cancer origin location

At the same time, they also carried out an analysis of tumor and blood samples from Moores Cancer Center at the University of California. This lets them identify the specific genetic markers for cancer.

In addition, they looked at blood samples from both patients with and without tumors. From this data, they were able to find the cancer markers in the methylation patterns in the patients’ tissues.

As a result, the experts have cataloged the test as a dual authentication process.

Locate Tumors via Blood: Coming Soon

Despite the results, the team of researchers has decided to be cautious. For the time being, this is only a proof of concept. 

“To move this research to the clinical stage, we need to work with oncologists to further optimize and refine this method,” Zhang said.

However, it is a very promising and interesting development to follow.

  • Hansen, K. D., Timp, W., Bravo, H. C., Sabunciyan, S., Langmead, B., McDonald, O. G., … & Briem, E. (2011). Increased methylation variation in epigenetic domains across cancer types. Nature genetics43(8), 768.
  • Cohen, J. D., Li, L., Wang, Y., Thoburn, C., Afsari, B., Danilova, L., … & Hruban, R. H. (2018). Detection and localization of surgically resectable cancers with a multi-analyte blood test. Science359(6378), 926-930.