KU and UNC Researchers Report New Blood-based Diagnostic for Cancer

Soper Wite NPO Pub 2017

Appearing in the journal, Nature Precision Oncology, Prof. Steven A. Soper and Dr. Maggie Witek from the University of Kansas (KU) along with clinical researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC), report a new liquid biopsy test that searches for circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in the blood of cancer patients. The test uses a lab-on-a-chip device developed by the KU researchers and tested in cancer patients at UNC. The test employed a unique concept in which two different types of tumor cells in blood were identified, including those that can initiate metastasis. The test was evaluated in a variety of cancer diseases including prostate, breast, pancreatic, ovarian and colorectal. The test accepts whole blood from the patient and then, using the lab-on-a-chip device, looks for rare CTCs (1 CTC per 1 billion red blood cells) found in the blood of both metastatic and non-metastatic cancer patients. In addition, the diagnostic test can be used to monitor a patient’s response to therapy so that the clinician can make changes in the course of treatment immediately to minimize bad outcomes for the patient. While determining response to therapy is typically done by monitoring the primary tumor size via imaging, imaging has limitations for example, it is difficult to monitor metastatic sites, it provides an extended delay in response to therapy, and frequent imaging can be dangerous to the patient. The diagnostic test reported by the KU researchers alleviates these limitations and importantly, requires only a simple blood draw.

The diagnostic test can also help the clinician determine the stage of the disease by counting the number of CTCs found in the blood of the patient. In addition, patients can be assigned proper chemotherapeutic drugs by looking at DNA mutations found in the CTCs. Soper and Witek are currently setting up a laboratory at KUMC to allow access of the test by clinicians at the KUMC Cancer Center. Soper stated that the test can also be used to evaluate the efficacy of new cancer drugs being developed by scientists at KUMC and KU-Lawrence.

The diagnostic test reported in Precision Oncology is currently being marketed by BioFluidica, INC., which has offices in San Diego, CA and at the Bioscience and Technology Business Center (BTBC) in Lawrence, KS. BioFluidica is seeking to market the technology developed by Soper and Witek and will be licensing new technologies emanating from the Soper group as well related to liquid biopsies.

The paper reported by the KU researchers appeared on the front page of the journal’s website (https://www.nature.com/npjprecisiononcology/). Nature Precision Oncology is a new international and peer-reviewed journal, which is committed to publishing cutting-edge scientific research in all aspects of oncology from basic science to translational applications to clinical medicine. The article can be found at the following website: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41698-017-0028-8.