Australian researchers develop painless test for blood cancers

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Australian researchers have developed a test that could eliminate the need for invasive and costly biopsies for patients with blood cancers, reports China's Xinhua news agency.

The liquid biopsy, developed by a husband and wife team from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre at The University of Melbourne, examines minor fragments of DNA emitted from cancer cells into the blood stream.

"Most cancers shed small amounts of DNA into the bloodstream," research leader Sarah Jane Dawson told a University of Melbourne publication today.

"This is not present in the cellular constituents of blood, and is known as cell-free DNA. We have developed technology that enables us to isolate it, and then analyse it for cancer-causing mutations."

The test will be administered at the time of diagnosis to provide doctors with a baseline measurement that can be tracked through treatment.

"As well as being less invasive, the test may give clinicians more precise information than current biopsies on the cancer's response to treatment," Dawson said.

"So we can very nimbly act on what we learn if, for example, a patient relapses or fails to respond to a particular therapy, we can adjust their treatment accordingly."

Mark Dawson, another member of the team and husband of Sarah Jane, said that the liquid biopsy would also be less painful for patients.

"The way we have monitored this disease is by recurrent bone marrow biopsy, which have their limitations because they are only sampling one site, they are painful and our patients find them difficult," Dawson said.

"This really limits how often you can do it."

Blood cancer is the third biggest cause of cancer-related deaths in Australia, claiming more lives annually than breast or skin cancer.

Leukaemia and other blood cancers account for 10 percent of all cancers diagnosed in Australia each year.

Researchers are hopeful that the rest will be available in Australia from July onwards.

- Bernama

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