People diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer would no longer face the prospect of having a needle inserted into their eye thanks to the new blood test developed by Edith Cowan University researchers.
Each year about 150 Australians are diagnosed with uveal cancer, a deadly type of melanoma that attacks the eye first and then spreads to the liver. In nearly half of cases, the tumor will metastasis throughout the patients’ body, resulting in a life expectancy of fewer than two years.
Now researchers have developed a blood test that can determine the risk of a patient’s cancer spreading throughout their body without the need for an invasive biopsy. Lead researcher Ph.D. student Aaron Beasley, from ECU’s Melanoma Research Group, said the blood test would provide some benefits for patients.
“Previously the only way to determine if the cancer was likely spread to other parts of the body was to take a biopsy sample, which involved inserting a needle into the patient’s eye in some cases while they remain conscious, which is not a pleasant experience,” he said.
Circulating tumor cells
Joint lead researcher Dr. Elin Gray, a Cancer Research Trust fellow, said the blood test worked by measuring the amount and Circulating Tumor Cells (CTCs) and Circulating Tumor DNA (ctDNA) in the patient’s blood.
“CTCs are cells that have been shed from the primary tumor and are carried in the blood, while ctDNA is fragments of DNA that have broken away from the tumor,” she said. “By analyzing the genetic makeup of these CTCs we were able to give an accurate prognosis of whether the patient’s melanoma was likely to metastasis throughout their body.
Mr. Beasley said the combination of CTC and ctDNA analysis could have significant clinical applications. “What we envision is that CTC analysis could be used clinically to stratify uveal melanoma patients into high and low-risk categories. Then a ctDNA test could be used to monitor disease progression and provide clinicians with valuable information to better make decisions for their patients.”
A personal view of eye cancer
The first indication that Peter Samson had that he had uveal melanoma was when he had trouble reading text on his computer. “I was sitting at home, and I remember trying to read something on my computer. It felt like a curtain was being pulled across my vision,” he said.
“I thought I had a detached retina, so I went straight down to my optometrist. It was only when he told me to go straight to an eye cancer specialist that I realized that I might be facing something quite serious," said Samson.