Colon cancer blood Dx could detect tumor cells before they take root

Colon cancer often isn't detected until it is advanced and often harder to treat. Baylor Research Institute scientists believe they've come up with a blood test that could catch it drastically earlier--even before it formally takes hold in the body.

The key involves testing for a certain kind of microRNA in the blood. And while further trials are needed, Baylor has some long-term plans that include additional testing and more. Senior study author Ajay Goel told the Dallas Business Journal that Baylor hopes to nail down a corporate partner that would license the technology and shepherd the test to the commercial market.

MedScape and the DBJ are among the media outlets that highlight the Baylor team's study, which a recent issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute outlined in detail.

The possibility of such a test comes down to the discovery of serum miR-21 as a serum biomarker common to both colorectal cancer and colonic polyps. The researchers say that the presence of the microRNA helped them identify 92% of patients with colorectal cancer. It also successfully helped zero in on 82% of patients who suffered from advanced polyps in the colon. For the study, they relied on data from dozens of patients and patient samples.

Colon cancer can be hard to diagnose until it is well advanced and harder to treat. And current testing, which includes fecal tests or colonoscopies, is invasive and patients aren't always receptive to taking them. That makes the Baylor team's work very intriguing to follow. Such a test, if successful, would upend colon cancer diagnosis if it can identify cancer-related microRNA in the blood before colon cancer tumors even take hold. Fecal tests and colonoscopies are the current gold standards of colon cancer diagnostic care, and the Baylor test could make colonoscopies, at least, unnecessary, the Dallas Business Journal notes.

There's also a big market potential here--more than 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer annually in the U.S. alone, the DBJ story notes.

Many others in the U.S. and internationally are trying to come up with a blood test that could accomplish the same thing: earlier diagnosis of colon cancer, to enable a more immediate intervention and treatment, thereby boosting the chance for a successful recovery. Mode Diagnostics in Scotland, for example, is hoping to launch its do-it-yourself home test for colon cancer in Europe. Epigenomics in Germany is pursuing U.S. approval for the 2.0 version of its Epi proColon test, a blood test that would also allow for earlier colon cancer detection with a quick turnaround. In South Korea, researchers developed a blood test designed to detect colon cancer on the early side and also reduce false positive results.

- here's the DBJ story
- check out Medscape's coverage (sub. req.)
- here's the journal abstract