Genetic Alterations Linked To Cancer In Some Blood Samples

August 28, 1996

Using a recently developed molecular test, investigators at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have detected genetic mutations specific to cancer in blood samples of six patients with head and neck cancer. Their findings are reported in the September issue of Nature Medicine.

"Although quite preliminary, these findings are interesting, because the presence of DNA alterations in the blood appears to be associated with large, advanced tumors and with cancer that has spread," says lead author David Sidransky, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology/head and neck surgery, and oncology. Sidransky cautions that the test does not appear useful as a screening test for cancer. "But it might be helpful in patient management for identifying patients with a very poor prognosis who may benefit from aggressive therapy," he says.

The test works by identifying replication errors, or chromosomal deletions, in the DNA of cancer cells. In this study, the investigators examined DNA from patients' serum (a component of blood plasma) and compared this DNA pattern to normal DNA from circulating white blood cells. They found genetic alterations in the serum of 6 of 21 head and neck cancer patients that were identical to alterations from the tumor itself.

Examining disease outcomes, the researchers found that 4 out of the 6 patients with positive test results subsequently died of their cancer compared to only 3 of 15 with negative test results. Additionally, the three patients who developed distant metastases (disseminated cancer) were in the positive test group, further indicating that poor outcome may be associated with the presence of serum DNA alterations. These results must be confirmed in much larger clinical trials, Sidransky says.

The technique used in this study was developed by Sidransky's team and first used to detect cancer cells in urine. The test uses a series of DNA markers to seek out genetic mutations specific to each patient's cancer. "We decided to test serum samples based on evidence from scientists two decades ago which pointed to increased levels of serum DNA in cancer patients," Sidransky said. "More recent studies suggest that cancer cells circulating in the blood may die and release DNA, which is carried through the bloodstream by plasma."

In an accompanying study in Nature Medicine, a team from Switzerland (also co-authors of the Hopkins study) found genetic alterations in the blood plasma of over 70 percent of patients with small cell lung cancer. The authors speculate that the higher presence of alterations may be indicative of the high propensity of this cancer to spread.

In addition to Sidransky, other participants in the Hopkins study include Drs. Homaira Nawroz and Wayne Koch from the Department of Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery, Division of Head and Neck Cancer Research at Johns Hopkins, and Drs. Philippe Anker and Maurice Stroun from the Laboratory of Plant Biochemistry and Physiology at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.
# # #

Funding for this research was provided by a lung cancer SPORE (Specialized Program of Research Excellence) grant from the National Cancer Institute and by Oncor, Inc. of Gaithersburg, MD. Under an agreement between Oncor and The Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Sidransky is entitled to a share of sales royalty received by the University from Oncor. Under that agreement, the University and Dr. Sidransky also have received Oncor stock, which, under University policy, cannot be traded until two years after the first commercial sales of the products related to this research. Dr. Sidransky also serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board and has stock options in OncorMed, Inc., an Oncor subsidiary, which is commercializing some of Oncor's technology. The terms of this agreement have been reviewed and approved by the University in accordance with its conflict of interest policies.

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to