New blood test developed which can detect cancer early even without symptoms

In a path breaking finding for the medical community, a new blood test has been developed which is capable of detecting cancer early and even in patients who are asymptomatic. The test was conducted as part of a Pathfinder Study by GRAIL, a healthcare company working on improving cancer screening.

In clinical studies, an earlier version of Galleri showed the ability to detect more than 50 types of cancer through a single blood draw. 45 of these cancers lack recommended screening.

The Pathfinder study conducted the blood test on over 6600 individuals as a part of this study. The participants were over the age of 50, as this age group is considered to be at an elevated risk for cancer. The results of the tests were presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Congress 2022 in Paris.

Galleri, a California company, developed the test called Galleri. The company says the test can spot “signals” of up to 50 cancers, including hard-to-detect and deadly cancers such as pancreatic, ovarian, and esophageal. The test works with blood drawn by a healthcare provider. The blood is sent to the Galleri lab, where the test tracks any DNA shed by cancer cells. The results are sent back to the health care providers in two weeks, as per the information provided by the official website, galleri.com.

Image Credit: NIH/ National Cancer Institute

According to Julia Feygin, MD, senior medical science liaison at Galleri, the test can find and sequence tiny bits of tumor-derived DNA in the blood and, based on the patterns they see, they would be able to reveal if there is a signal for cancer is present. They can pinpoint the location of the source of cancer signal with very high frequency, she said.

The website of Galleri clearly mentions that the test doesn’t diagnose cancer, doesn’t spot all cancers, and is not intended to replace U.S. guideline-recommended cancer screening.

In the Pathfinder study, 6,621 adults aged 50 and over were offered the Galleri blood test. For 6,529 volunteers, the test was negative, but it flagged a potential cancer in 92. Further tests confirmed solid tumours or blood cancer in 35 people, or 1.4% of the study group. The test spotted two cancers in a woman who had breast and endometrial tumours.

Beyond spotting the presence of disease, the test predicts where the cancer is, allowing doctors to fast-track the follow-up work needed to locate and confirm a cancer. According to doctors, the signal of origin can be very helpful in directing the type of work-up. When the blood test is positive, it can take as little as under three months to get the work-ups completed.

The test identified 19 solid tumours in tissues such as the breast, liver, lung and colon, but it also spotted ovarian and pancreatic cancers, which are typically detected at a late stage and have poor survival rates. The remaining cases were that of blood cancers. Out of the 36 cancers detected in total, 14 were early stage and 26 were forms of the disease not routinely screened for.

Homepage of Galleri.com Image Credit: galleri.com

According to the company, the test could result in more early detection of cancer, which doctors stress as a key in helping people survive cancer. The American Cancer Society says 71% of cancer deaths are caused by cancers that are not normally screened for.

GRAIL, which was reacquired by Illumina for $8 billion, inked a partnership earlier this year with pharmaceutical companies Amgen, AstraZeneca, and Bristol Myers Squibb. The companies will soon begin using GRAIL’s technology to test promising new approaches for monitoring minimal residual disease and detection recurrence, and gain deeper insights into tumor biology and patient outcomes.

GRAIL also signed an agreement with the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) to support the NHS’ long-term plan for earlier cancer diagnoses in an effort to save lives. The partnership program will reportedly involve approximately 165,000 people in the United Kingdom. It includes two groups. The first will include 140,000 people over the age of 50 without any suspected cancer. The second will include 25,000 people 40 and above with suspected signs or symptoms of cancer.

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