Dr Jeremy Henson and his team have discovered an important new way to test for aggressive cancers. They have created a new blood test that looks for specific biomarkers. The new test could aid in early diagnosis and can help with devising the treatment best suited to each patient.
Cancer cells are known for their immortality – an ability to proliferate indefinitely. In 10-15% of cancers, that ability depends on a mechanism known as alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT). This applies to several aggressive and hard-to-treat cancers, such as osteosarcomas (bone cancer) and lung cancer. Because ALT is a relatively uncommon cancer mechanism, understanding it is vitally important to devising better diagnostics and treatments. Patients with ALT cancers are in need of precise blood tests that can accurately measure tumour cell activity, monitor disease progression and assess how the cancer is responding to chemotherapy.
Dr Henson and his team discovered that when a cancer uses the ALT mechanism, it may also contain a biomarker called C-Circle. Using this important discovery, Dr Henson’s team has successfully developed a new blood test to distinguish cancers that use ALT from those that do not.
The researchers have discovered that cancer cells can actively release C-Circle in the early stages of a cancer, which means this blood test could even be useful for early diagnosis for at least some cancer types.
A study on lung cancer patients also revealed that patients with C-Circle positive tumours had significantly worse survival.
This means the new test can help find a treatment better suited to the needs of individual patients.
The new blood test for detecting C-Circle can already be used not just for research, but also in clinical laboratories. The team’s results show that the blood test has great potential to help patients with bone cancer and lung cancer in particular.
There are several useful applications for the test. For example, measuring C-Circle in blood can help catch cancer early, or predict its recurrence. The blood test can also be used to identify which therapy will be most beneficial for a specific cancer, measure how the disease is progressing and how it is responding to treatment. With further research, the test may even become useful for more types of cancer.
Dr Jeremy Henson Children’s Medical Research Institute
Professor Roger Reddel Dr Lisa Wang Dr Paul Stalley Dr Richard Boyle