• Potential for SCLC Blood Test unlocked by Manchester University
    Professor Caroline Dive
  • Dr Dominic Rothwell
  • Professor Charles Rudin

News & Views

Potential for SCLC Blood Test unlocked by Manchester University

Aug 27 2022

A transatlantic study, led by CRUK Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarker Centre researchers based at the city’s university, along with a team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, could pave the way for diagnosing and characterising early stage small cell lung cancer (SCLC) using a simple blood test.

The research team has developed a method sensitive enough to detect specific DNA modifications (methylation) in the very low levels of DNA shed from a patient’s tumour into the blood stream, known as circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA). The test was sufficiently sensitive and accurate to detect methylation of ctDNA, even from patients whose tumours were diagnosed at the earliest stage. A computational method to assess which methylation modifications were present has also been developed.

While the standard treatment for SCLC is chemotherapy, recent studies suggest that multiple types of this aggressive form of cancer might respond differently to a range of therapies. The new blood test was also able to classify which type of SCLC is affecting a patient, supporting the potential for more personalised treatment options.

Professor Caroline Dive who led the study commented: “SCLC is a terrible disease, causing so much anguish to patients and their families. We think this blood test could be really useful in future clinical trials of new therapies to predict and monitor treatment responses.”

Dr Dominic Rothwell, who headed the laboratory work said: “A key advantage of blood-based molecular subtyping is that blood is much easier to collect and is able to circumvent the challenges often encountered in analysing scant and often extensively necrotic tissue associated with tumour biopsies. Our study opens up the exciting possibility of detecting SCLC earlier and assigning patients to more personalised treatments.”

Prof Charles Rudin, Chief of Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, leads the global consortium that defined the different types of SCLC: “To our knowledge, this is the first published study to show that DNA methylation analysis of a blood sample can identify the SCLC molecular subtypes. Though further validation is clearly now needed in a larger independent patient cohort, this blood test could one day assist clinicians in choosing better treatments for SCLC, which is currently notoriously difficult to manage.”

Dr Marianne Baker, Research Information Manager at Cancer Research UK which funded the study said: “These promising early results show that the CRUK Cancer Biomarker Centre is leading the way in developing liquid biopsies. These could allow doctors to spot a person’s lung cancer earlier and even track how a cancer changes over time, helping them to choose the best treatments.”

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