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Australian researchers contribute to a new blood test for early detection of multiple cancers

18 January 2018
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Key Researchers
Division Head
Senior Clinical Research Fellow
A US-led research team working with Australian collaborators has developed a new blood test or ‘liquid biopsy’ for the early detection of eight common cancers, diagnosing tumours before they have spread, when the chance of cure is high.
Researchers at the Institute
Professor Peter Gibbs and Associate Professor Jeanne
Tie have contributed to the development of a blood
test for early detection of eight common cancers. 

Called CancerSEEK and developed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, US, the blood test screens for key proteins and gene mutations that indicate the presence of one of eight types of cancer: ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, oesophagus, bowel, lung and breast.

The research was published today in the international journal Science and included collaborating organisations from the US, Australia and Italy.

Walter and Eliza Hall Institute scientists Associate Professor Jeanne Tie and Professor Peter Gibbs, who also have joint appointments at the Western Hospital, were the only Australians who contributed to the project.

Earlier diagnosis for better outcomes

Professor Gibbs said blood tests that could accurately detect the early stages of cancer, well before symptoms are present, were urgently needed as cancer mortality rates are directly related to how advanced a cancer is at diagnosis.

“While screening tests for some cancers have already been developed, and are associated with earlier diagnosis and better outcomes, for many major tumour types there are no effective screening tests. The currently available screening tests can also be unpleasant, have associated risks and uptake can be low. Significantly each test can only screen for one cancer at a time,” Professor Gibbs said.

CancerSEEK tests were positive in a median of 70 per cent of the eight cancer types. The test was able to positively detect between 69 and 98 per cent of people who had one of five cancer types (ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, and oesophagus) for which there are no screening tests currently available (for average-risk individuals). The specificity of CancerSEEK was greater than 99 per cent, meaning that fewer than one per cent of people had a false positive result from the test.

Associate Professor Tie said CancerSEEK had the potential to be a one-stop, safe screening test for multiple tumour types that should have high community acceptance.

“For the first time we have the promise of a screening test that will lead to earlier diagnosis and improved survival outcomes for many tumour types that are major contributors to cancer deaths in our community,” Associate Professor Tie said.

This work was supported by the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, The Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, The Commonwealth Fund, The John Templeton Foundation, the Clinomics Program, Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine, the Mayo Clinic Biobank, The Sol Goldman Center for Pancreatic Cancer Research, The Michael Rolfe Pancreatic Cancer Research Foundation, The Benjamin Baker Scholarship, The Gray Foundation, The Early Detection Research Network, Susan Wojcicki and Dennis Troper, The Marcus Foundation, and National Institutes of Health.

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