Have scientists found the new gold standard in cancer test?

Dec 10, 2018

Cancer research scientists around the world are looking at what might be a revolutionary test for the diseases of cancer. The test is quick, potentially cheap and based on a simple blood test, not some elaborate technical equipment.

The test is based on a quirk of cancer cells, an affinity for gold. That's not really true for regular cells. So Australian scientists came up with a test putting blood samples on nanoparticles of gold and looking for the cancer cells and finding them.

That's a good thing for researchers. Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center scientist Joyce Ohm is looking carefully at the test because it can be used for patients who have already been treated for cancer.

"This type of test, you're going to be finding more and more research in the months, to a year or two. This is something that people will jump on quickly and they'll dive into and do a really deep dive to see if it can be used to accurately and safely help us understand what's going on with patients," Ohm said, "and that's in the very, very near term, at least in patients that have already been diagnosed with cancer."

There are a lot of obstacles to using this test routinely. Ohm said routine screening for cancer cells is much farther away, since the test doesn't answer a basic question: Do I have cancer?

Roswell Park cancer researcher Joyce Ohm says the new test is likely to be used quickly for those who have already been treated for cancer.
Credit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center

"If you actually had cancer or if you just had cells that had some of the changes, we wouldn't know where the cancer was, so you might end up having to do a bunch of invasive screenings - and, actually, it could be that people, especially over time, do develop those changes and would never need to be treated," Ohm said. "So we obviously don't want to be alarming people and treating them in an instance where we don't need to."

Ohm said this blood test takes about 10 minutes to deliver a result. It's the latest in cancer researchers looking for blood tests that can quickly spot cancer through the individual proteins thrown off into the blood by individual cancers. Those results show up far earlier than most cancer diagnoses - important in treating the cancer.

"Only in the last 15 years that, now, these targeted therapies have been developed," she said, "and so it's within the last few years that, really, cancer biomarker studies like this have started to take off and you're started to see institutions, universities, hospitals, companies doing screening and molecular testing on tumors."