New research from the University of Cambridge (UK) has revealed that in the future, cancer cell fingerprints in the blood could be used to diagnose several childhood cancers faster and more accurately than current methods. The results of the study led by Matthew Murray and Nicholas Coleman were presented at the National Cancer Research Institute Cancer Conference (2–5 November 2014, Liverpool, UK).
The researchers took blood samples from children with newly diagnosed cancer and looked for common changes linked to specific tumor types. Specifically, they analyzed the samples to identify microRNAs, molecules that are responsible for turning genes on and off.
This analysis uncovered unique molecular fingerprints for 11 types of childhood tumors, which could lead to the development of blood tests for the diagnosis of these cancers. In particular, the team found a very specific fingerprint that is able to identify different types of neuroblastoma.
Lead researcher Murray explained: “Being diagnosed with cancer is often devastating for a child and their family, and the tests involved can be upsetting. We hope that this early research could eventually lead to the development of noninvasive tests which are faster, more accurate and gentler, transforming the way we make a cancer diagnosis in the future.”
“Using a blood test instead of surgery to remove a tumor sample could improve diagnosis – such that results take a matter of hours rather than days or weeks. However, before such a test can be incorporated into clinical practice, it will now be important for these findings to be validated in other, larger independent studies,” Murray continued.
Julia Ambler, Director of Medical Research at children’s medical research charity Sparks (UK), commented: “We are delighted to have been able to fund a project that will hopefully lead to much quicker diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancers which has the potential to benefit hundreds of children and their families each year. This project is at a really exciting stage and we are looking forward to seeing the results from the next step.”