Researchers at the US-based cancer research and treatment organisation City of Hope have developed a new blood test for detecting early-onset colorectal cancer.

In a study published in the journal Gastroenterology, the researchers analysed a large, publicly accessible dataset to systematically conduct genome-wide analysis and detect microRNA (miRNA) signatures.

They extrapolated the information of 42 Stage 1 or Stage 2 early-onset colorectal cancer patients, as well as 370 late-onset colorectal cancer patients.

The findings were then verified using blood samples obtained from 149 early-onset colorectal cancer patients, which were compared with a control group of 110 patients.

To better identify early-onset colorectal cancer patients, the researchers deleted all miRNA markers that were shared by both early-onset and late-onset colorectal cancer patients to improve specificity and accuracy.

They identified four miRNAs that together form a signature biomarker that can be used to detect and diagnose the presence of early-onset colorectal cancer in younger persons.

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City of Hope Department of Molecular Diagnostics and Experimental Therapeutics chair and professor Ajay Goel said: “More research is needed, but this finding could help fill a void in the cancer prevention and early detection field, which does not currently have a noninvasive and accurate way to detect the presence of nonhereditary colorectal cancer in people younger than 50 years old.

“The study is significant because it is the first time a novel microRNA (miRNA) biomarker has been identified, developed and validated to detect early-onset colorectal cancer.”

The organisation noted that more research needs to be done using larger patient cohorts before the new liquid biopsy can be used in clinics.

Last April, City of Hope developed a new non-invasive liquid biopsy test to detect lymph node metastasis in high-risk T1 colorectal carcinoma patients.