A blood test that reads genetic changes like a barcode, and can detect aggressive prostate cancer has been designed.
A group at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust realised that reading the pattern of genes that were switched off or on in blood cells could accurately detect which advanced prostate cancers had the worst prognosis. The tests is described in The Lancet Oncology.
Professor Johann de Bono, the study’s senior author said: “Prostate cancer is a very diverse disease – some people live with it for years without symptoms but for others it can be aggressive and life-threatening – so it’s vital we develop reliable tests to tell the different types apart.”
The researchers scanned all the genes in blood samples from 100 prostate cancer patients. 69 patients had advanced cancer and 21 control patients thought to have low-risk, early-stage cancer were included in the study.
They used statistical modelling to divide the patients into four groups which would reflect their pattern of gene activity – the barcode. When they reviewed the patients’ progress after nearly two-and-a-half years, they discovered that patients in one group had survived for significantly less time than patients in the others. Further modelling established nine key active genes that were present in all patients in the group.
A number of the genes identified are involved in the immune system, suggesting immune response was suppressed in patients whose cancers were spreading around the body.
Professor Alan Ashworth, chief executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Whether particular genes are active or not is an important clue in identifying patients with a poor prognosis. This latest study shows that it is possible to read these patterns of gene activity like a barcode, allowing scientists to spot cancers that are likely to be more aggressive.”
Professor Martin Gore, medical director at The Royal Marsden, said: “Personalised medicine is the future of cancer treatment. This blood test, which reads genetic changes in prostate cancer providing a prediction of how aggressive the cancer might be, is an important development, allowing us to better tailor treatment to suit each individual.”
The researchers initially plan to assess the test as part of a large-scale international trial of a new prostate cancer drug in patients with advanced cancer.