Accurate Early Cancer Diagnosis with a Drop of Blood
[POSTECH professor Joon Won Park succeeds in detecting circulating tumor DNAs of low abundance without gene amplification.]
Liquid biopsy, which detects tumor DNAs in the blood, is not only more convenient than the biopsy that requires collection of patients’ tissues, but is attracting much attention since the blood contains tumor DNAs in presence of any cancer in the body, whereas the tissue collection frequently misses cancerous cells.
Currently, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is widely employed to detect a small number of mutated genes. However, there is a strong need to improve the reliability of the conventional method since its sensitivity and specificity are compromised especially at low concentrations.
A research team led by Professor Joon Won Park at POSTECH’s Department of Chemistry in collaboration with Seoul National University College of Medicine and Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital has shown that the use of an atomic force microscope overcomes such shortcomings.
The liquid biopsy method developed by the researchers demonstrates sensitivity high enough to detect even one to three specific tumor DNAs in the blood while showing specificity close to 100%.
Professor Park’s team has worked with professors Yonggoo Kim and Myungshin Kim (Department of Laboratory Medicine at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital) to demonstrate that such approach is effective for samples from cancer patients, and POSTECH-CATHOLIC Biomedical Engineering Institute – jointly established by POSTECH and Catholic University in 2005 – has supported such collaboration strongly. Their joint study was recently published in a prestigious journal, Nano Letters.
“The ultimate goal is relieving mankind from the threat of cancers with the current method,” explained Professor Joon Won Park. “Because the technique is highly extensible, it is possible also to detect biomarkers of dementia with the highest sensitivity”.
The study was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea. The newly developed liquid biopsy will soon go to market through NB Postech Inc., a venture company specializing in medical diagnosis. As the first step, a reference laboratory will be launched at Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, and clinical trials for research and FDA approval are scheduled at the site.