At our Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Dr Nitzan Rosenfeld leads a lab group that’s dedicated to developing sophisticated new ways to detect and monitor cancer, using patients’ blood samples.
As tumours develop and grow, they release tiny bits of DNA into the blood that can be fished out and analysed. Dr Rosenfeld and his colleagues have shown that this ‘circulating tumour DNA’ (ctDNA) can be used to track how cancers are evolving in response to treatment, and to monitor disease spread.
Using ctDNA from a blood sample can give doctors a fuller picture of cancer’s genetic landscape than a biopsy, and spare patients an invasive procedure.
Dr Rosenfeld and his team are working to progress this research and investigate new ways to use such techniques. They want to see whether testing for ctDNA could help doctors diagnose cancers earlier in people who are at higher risk of the disease, for example people with a family history of cancer.
They are testing if doctors can use ctDNA to help guide treatment decisions, for example by revealing genetic faults in cancer cells that could be targeted with certain therapies. Finally, they analyse ctDNA to see if it could reveal new insight into why some cancers stop responding to treatment.
In the future, this important research could help improve the outlook for patients by helping doctors to diagnose the disease at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful, and potentially lead to more effective treatment choices for patients.