Greek Professor of Oncology, Nickolas Papadopoulos, has led a team of scientists that have together made a major breakthrough towards developing a single blood test that could identify tumours in 8 cancer types long before a person becomes aware of symptoms.
The new test, which is sensitive to both mutated DNA that floats freely in the blood and cancer-related proteins, gave a positive result approximately 70% of the time across eight of the most common cancers when tested in more than 1,000 patients.
In the future, such a test could be used in routine screening programmes to significantly increase the proportion of patients who get treatment early, at a time before cancer would typically show up on conventional scans.
Five of them, ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and esophageal cancers, currently have no screening tests.
“The goal is to look for as many cancer types as possible in one test, and to identify cancer as early as possible,” said Nickolas Papadopoulos, a Professor of Oncology and Pathology at Johns Hopkins who led the work. “We know from the data that when you find cancer early, it is easier to kill it by surgery or chemotherapy.”
CancerSEEK, which builds on 30 years of research, relies on two signals that a person might be harboring cancer.
“The use of a combination of selected biomarkers for early detection has the potential to change the way we screen for cancer, and it is based on the same rationale for using combinations of drugs to treat cancers,” added Professor Papadopoulos.
The test could also identify the form of cancer that a patient had, a goal that previous cancer blood tests have not been able to do.
It works by detecting free-floating mutated DNA, released into the bloodstream by dying cancer cells. The test screened for the presence of errors in 16 genes that are frequently mutated in different kinds of cancer. The blood of patients was also tested for eight known protein biomarkers which are seen to differing degrees depending on where in the body a tumour is located.
The team behind the test, known as CancerSEEK, suggest it would eventually cost less than $500 per patient. The findings are published in the journal Science.
Professor Papadopoulos started his academic studies in Greece, with a B.S., from Aristotelion University of Thessaloniki and later obtained an M.S. from the University of Houston and a PhD from the University of Texas, before receiving his postdoctoral training at The Johns Hopkins Medical Institute, Department of Oncology.