Tracking Cancer with Liquid Biopsies

A Flinders Foundation grant is enabling Flinders researchers to trial a new liquid biopsy sample in the hope it will give them a head start in tracking and monitoring tumours.

The ability to rapidly adapt and overcome the beneficial effects of medication is a characteristic that makes many forms of cancer so difficult to cure. When it comes to treating tumours, decisions on which medication to use are often guided by knowledge of the tumour’s biology. This information is gathered by performing a surgical biopsy of the tumour itself. While effective, the technique only provides the treatment team with a snapshot of the tumour at that point in time.

Now, researchers at Flinders are trialling a new, less invasive technique – the collection of liquid biopsy samples – which they hope will give them a head start in tracking and monitoring tumours.

“Since taking a blood sample is relatively safe, the value of liquid biopsies will be to enable biopsy-like information to be captured regularly over time, allowing the changes in the cancer to be monitored over time,” said Professor of Pharmacology Michael Sorich, based in the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer. “With an earlier understanding of how the cancer changes, it will hopefully be possible to treat the cancer more effectively,” he said.

Michael said liquid biopsies have several advantages over their surgical counterparts.

“The advantage of a liquid biopsy is that obtaining a blood or urine sample is typically much safer, convenient and less costly than obtaining a surgical biopsy. Liquid biopsies may not replace surgical biopsies entirely but they will complement them by making it easier to track how cancers change and react to medication,” he said.

According to study co-lead Associate Professor Chris Karapetis, researchers are always investigating better ways of tailoring treatment to individual patients, tracking treatment progress and knowing when to adjust or change it.

“This information gleaned from the liquid biopsy may help us to better tailor the treatment to each patient so that benefits of cancer therapy are maximised,” Chris said.

For patients involved in this study, there will be no difference in the high quality of their standard of care.

“The only difference is that patients will be empowered by the knowledge that their cancer experience and biological samples will be used to research better ways to treat cancer and monitor cancer treatment in the future,” Michael said.

Oncology patients of Flinders Centre in Innovation in Cancer were invited to participate in the study.

Flinders Foundation provided seed funding for this research.

This story was originally published in Southern Health News.


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