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Canada-based researchers at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and BC Cancer have developed a new blood test to study and treat cancer.

The first-of-its-kind test provides critical information regarding a patient’s cancer and allows doctors to offer better treatment options that can improve patient outcomes.

It analyses the DNA that metastatic cancers shed into a person’s bloodstream, which is called circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA).

The test performs whole genome sequencing of ctDNA to reveal the characteristics of each patient’s cancer.

This helps physicians to develop more customised treatment plans.

Vancouver Prostate Centre senior research scientist and University of British Columbia (UBC) urologic sciences assistant professor Dr Alexander Wyatt said: “With only a few drops of blood, we can uncover critical information about a person’s overall disease and how best to manage their cancer.

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“This test has the potential to help clinicians choose better-tailored treatment options and to more efficiently detect treatment resistance, allowing clinicians to adjust clinical care as needed.”

In the study, which was published in the scientific journal Nature, the researchers studied ctDNA samples from patients with metastatic prostate cancer.

They found that the ctDNA whole genome sequencing, conducted at the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, provided information regarding the different metastases spread throughout a patient’s body.

The researchers used recently developed computer programmes to locate the unique genetic make-up of various cancers in the body and obtain a better understanding of the disease.

Dr Wyatt added: “Every cancer is unique and every patient responds differently to treatment.

“This new generation of ctDNA tests can help clinicians choose the treatment option that is most likely to benefit a patient.”

The researchers stated that they learned how cancers evolved in response to treatment by collecting multiple ctDNA samples over time.

Findings from the study showed new genetic mechanisms of resistance to the most common drugs for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer and demonstrated the use of ctDNA profiling in understanding treatment resistance across other cancer types.

The minimally invasive, relatively inexpensive and scalable technology is undergoing clinical trials.