Technion University researchers have come up with a new and simple blood test that may be able to detect cancer.
Professor Ari Admon, who led the research team, said its technique may “provide a large enough source of information to enable personalized treatment for the disease.” The researchers’ study was published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Current blood tests for cancer detect where cancer cells are in the blood, but the technique developed by Prof. Admon’s team has come up with a test that can identify different types of cancers and other diseases.
The scientists’ report on a new source of blood-derived biomarkers may help doctors determine whether a recovering cancer patient has relapsed, and may someday aid in the early detection of a variety of cancers. The technique may also “provide a large enough source of information to enable personalized treatment for the disease,” Prof. Admon said.
The biomarkers consist of immune molecules called HLA and their cargo of peptides, which are degraded bits of protein that they haul to the surface of tumor cells. Since cancer cells release larger amounts of the HLA molecules, “we may be able to diagnose different disease, including cancer, by analyzing the repertoires of peptides carried by these soluble HLA,” he explained.
So far, the method has been tested in blood from patients with multiple myeloma and leukemia, as well as healthy people and cancer cells grown in the lab. If their process holds up under further intensive testing, the researchers say, it could form “a foundation for development of a simple and universal blood-based cancer diagnosis.”
Prof. Admon said, “We aim at early detection, leading to a better prognosis, relapse detection, and better information for personalized treatment. All of these are long term goals. We think that relapse detection may be the first achievable goal.”
Some researchers have suggested that the flood of HLA-peptide complexes released by tumor cells helps the cancer evade immune detection, by “blocking and confusing the anti-cancer T-cells,” Admon said.
There are only a handful of peptides known to be associated with particular types of cancer, so the new technique can not be used yet to determine whether a person has a certain type of cancer. However, researchers could study the soluble HLA-peptide repertoires to learn more about the proteins that each kind of tumor produces.
HLA come in a wide variety of their own, and differ between individuals. The different subtypes of HLA differ from each other in the repertoires of peptides they carry and present. By analyzing these differences in “many people of diverse ethnic origin,” the Technion professor said, “we will be able to come up with better diagnoses for larger parts of the human population.”
Someday, a person’s “healthy” HLA profile may join blood pressure and cholesterol readings as part of the person’s medical record, the researchers suggest in their PNAS report. Any changes in the HLA profile, they note, could be used for “detecting the telltale changes associated with the onset of diseases.”