MicroRNA shows promise as key ingredient in liquid biopsy for cancer detection

By Paul Basilio, MDLinx
Published March 24, 2017

Key Takeaways

A new review article in Clinical Cancer Research examines the potential for microRNA to detect GI cancer in blood and other bodily fluids. These “liquid biopsies” show promise for the future of screening and prevention.

Small particles of DNA are shed into the bloodstream as cancer tumors grow. Liquid biopsies would detect these particles, which could help doctors diagnose specific types of cancer before they could be found by traditional screenings, such as a CT scan, mammogram, or colonoscopy. Clinicians hope making cancer detection easier for patients will lead to more people being screened and more lives saved.

"A significant number of patients still develop late-stage gastrointestinal cancer, when treatment options are limited," said Ajay Goel, PhD, Director of Gastrointestinal Research and Translational Genomics and Oncology at Baylor Scott & White Research Institute, and one of the lead authors of the article. "Liquid biopsies hold promise for detecting cancer before a tumor or symptoms even develop and may prevent some patients from undergoing invasive surgical and needle biopsies."

MicroRNA are molecules that regulate gene expression, and they have been emerging as potential biomarkers due to their small size and stability in a variety of bodily fluids.

Dr. Goel and his team reviewed studies in colorectal, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and hepatocellular and biliary cancers that show microRNA may play a key role in future development of the approach.  

"Continued research into microRNA as a biomarkers in this approach will likely usher in a new era of personalized medicine for cancer patients," Dr. Goel said. "That may be 20, 30 or 50 years down the road, but that's the hope."

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