Nobody enjoys getting a biopsy, where a tissue sample is surgically taken and analyzed in a lab for signs of disease such as cancer.
It’s not only unpleasant for the patient, but also has clinical drawbacks: a biopsy doesn’t always extract the diseased tissue and isn’t helpful in detecting disease at early stages.
These concerns have encouraged researchers to find less invasive and more accurate diagnostic methods.
Prof. Nir Friedman and Ronen Sadeh of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have developed a blood test that enables lab technicians to diagnose cancer and diseases of the heart and liver by identifying and determining the state of the dead cells throughout the body.
The multi-author study published in Nature Biotechnology explains that the test can even identify markers that may differentiate between patients with similar tumors, which could help physicians develop personalized treatments.
Millions of cells die every day and are replaced by new cells. When cells die, their DNA is fragmented. Some of these DNA fragments reach the blood and can be “read” by advanced DNA sequencing methods.
“As a result of these scientific advancements, we understood that if this information is maintained within the DNA structure in the blood, we could use that data to determine the tissue source of dead cells and the genes that were active in those very cells. Based on those findings, we can uncover key details about the patient’s health,” Friedman said.
“We are able to better understand why the cells died — whether it’s an infection or cancer — and based on that be better positioned to determine how the disease is developing.”
Co-author Israa Sharkiya added that the simple blood test could “be administered often and quickly, allowing the medical staff involved to follow the presence or development of a disease more closely.”
A startup company, Senseera, has been established to pursue clinical testing of this innovative approach in partnership with major pharmaceutical companies.