Epworth’s Director of Molecular Oncology and Cancer Immunology and haematologist Professor Miles Prince is researching a potentially revolutionary test for the diagnosis of blood cancers.

Today, blood cancer is diagnosed by removing tissue from a lymph gland and/or bone marrow for analysis. This is an invasive, often painful process that takes time to heal and recover.

“Instead, we’re trialing an alternate way of examining the blood cancer tissue, specifically a blood test which some call a ‘liquid biopsy’,” Prof Prince said.

“This blood test allows us to detect miniscule tumour fragments hidden in patients’ bodies through DNA analysis.”

Recently scientists discovered ctDNA (circulating tumour DNA) – genetic material that has leaked out of a patient’s malignancy into the bloodstream. With a blood sample, we can now analyse minuscule tumour particles and work out more accurately where cancer cells are hiding in the body.

“It’s only been in the last few years that we’ve had the capacity to detect cells at this tiny DNA level,” Prof Prince said.

“This will be a real game changer and allow us to use that information to better personalise treatment. It will help us identify a broader spectrum of cancer mutations hiding in the patient’s body and give us better insight into the tumour’s ‘personality’ through molecular testing.

“We can look at whether the cancer is passive or aggressive and work out which treatment is more likely to be successful. This sort of testing will also allow us to follow the cancer better.”