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Study Shows Blood Test Finds Early Pancreatic Cancer

Pancreatic cancer cells

Pancreatic cancer cells in culture (Anne Weston, London Research Institute, via National Institute of General Medical Sciences)

12 October 2015. An evaluation of a blood test to find early stages of pancreatic cancer showed the test successfully identified early-stage cancer in the vast majority of study participants with the disease. The findings published by a team from diagnostics company VolitionRx in Belgium and Lund University in Sweden appeared last week in the journal Clinical Epigenetics.

Pancreatic cancer is often difficult to diagnose in its early stages, because of few unique symptoms associated with the disease, and because the pancreas is hidden among other organs in the body. As a result, it is often diagnosed in later, more advanced stages of the disease, with generally a poor prognosis for survival. American Cancer Society estimates nearly 49,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, leading to more than 40,000 deaths.

VolitionRx’s technology detects indicators of disease based on the nature of histone proteins that form in the core of cells. DNA strands coil around histones and are condensed into chromatin, the material that makes up chromosomes. The pieces of DNA that wrap around histones are called nucleosomes, and when mutations form in the DNA, nucleosomes change as well, which affect the underlying histone proteins.

Changes in nucleosomes are unique for each disease condition, which makes it possible to identify the disease by a biomarker or indicator when that nucleosome change occurs. VolitionRx’s technology looks for those indicators in antibodies in blood and other fluid samples that bind to histones and appear when nucleosomes change.

The study team drew blood samples from 59 individuals at Skåne University Hospital in Lund, Sweden, of whom 25 had pancreatic cancer in an early, operable stage. Another 10 participants had a benign, non-cancerous, pancreatic condition, while 24 healthy individuals served as a comparison group. Soon after providing blood samples, patients with pancreatic cancer underwent therapeutic surgery.

The blood samples were analyzed with a series of five nucleosome biomarkers in VolitionRx’s assay for pancreatic cancer, brand-named NuQ, which showed the test correctly identified 21 of the 25 or 84 percent of individuals with pancreatic cancer. When adding a standard diagnostic test for the disease, known as cancer antigen 19-9, or CA 19-9, the number of correct identifications rose to 23 or 92 percent. When including patients with benign pancreatic diseases, the percentage of accurate diagnoses dropped somewhat to 72 percent, both with and without CA 19-9.

At the same time, 3 of the individuals with benign conditions and 2 of the 24 healthy volunteers registered false positives with the NuQ assay. When adding the CA 19-9 test, however, no false positives occurred.

In a company statement, VolitionRx’s CEO Cameron Reynolds calls the study “a very important milestone for VolitionRx.” Reynolds adds that “the study confirms nucleosome profiles as distinguished by our NuQ tests represent potential biomarkers for the early detection of cancer with very good accuracy. We are in the process of negotiating large trials to confirm these extremely encouraging results from this pilot study.”

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