Houston Methodist developing new blood test for brain metastasis


Cancer researchers at Houston Methodist in the US are developing a new blood test to detect breast cancer patients who are at high risk of brain metastasis.

The test can also be used for monitoring disease progression as well as the response to therapy in real time.

Led by Houston Methodist Research Institute Biomarker Research Programme director Dario Marchetti, the research team identified a unique group of brain metastasis-associated circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in the bloodstream of patients.

The new finding is intended to provide better insights into the cause and spread of the metastasis in the breast cancer patients, to aid the development of a screening tool that is more sensitive.

Marchetti said: “Our research confirmed that CTCs in breast cancer brain metastases are distinct from other circulating tumour cells.

"Now we can take this information and develop a more sensitive screening tool to detect metastatic cancer in the blood, possibly even before metastasis is radiologically detectable by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)."

“Now we can take this information and develop a more sensitive screening tool to detect metastatic cancer in the blood, possibly even before metastasis is radiologically detectable by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).”

The researchers compared whole genome expression patterns of CTCs that are obtained from blood samples of patients with or without BCBM and detected a 126 gene-signature that is specific to the brain metastatic CTCs.

It is reported that MRI detection, which is the current standard-of-care measure to diagnose BCBM, is majorly possible at progressed disease stages during which fewer treatment options are present.

Intended to detect metastasis while it is still treatable, the latest findings are based on prior research by Marchetti’s lab that identified four distinct CTC subsets indicated in dormancy of breast cancer cells.

The findings will be used to develop two non-invasive liquid biopsy tests, one for early detection of BCBM and another for monitoring real-time treatment efficacy in brain metastasis patients.