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Revolutionary T-Cell Analysis Approach Enables Cancer Early Detection

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 03 Apr 2024
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Image: The new liquid biopsy approach uses the body’s own tumor surveillance by T cells to detect cancer (Photo courtesy of Serum Detect)
Image: The new liquid biopsy approach uses the body’s own tumor surveillance by T cells to detect cancer (Photo courtesy of Serum Detect)

Liquid biopsy, an approach to diagnosing cancer through routine blood tests, is a significant potential tool for the early detection of cancer. The current liquid biopsy methods primarily identify tumor-shed analytes like circulating tumor DNA. While these methods have made significant progress in detecting recurrent and advanced-stage cancers, they often miss early-stage diseases due to the low concentration of target analytes. To expand detection capabilities, researchers have been investigating whether the immune response to cancer could provide a more abundant molecular target for screening. Yet, this research has not translated into practical assays that are compatible with and could improve current clinical liquid biopsy tools. Now, a novel and promising approach for early detection of cancer uses advances in T-cell receptor (TCR) repertoire analysis to reveal previously undetectable signals in standard liquid biopsy samples.

Serum Detect (Newton, MA, USA) is developing diagnostic tests using standard liquid biopsy samples that both complement and enhance traditional screening methods for the early detection of cancer. The technology is based on innovative computational methods. The company has advanced scalable algorithms for TCR clustering and statistical association testing in extensive TCR repertoire databases. This approach has shown promise in identifying clusters of similar TCRs that respond to the same antigens in related immune responses.

Serum Detect's work has revealed that these TCR repertoire functional units (RFUs) can be linked to the presence of cancer, leading to the development of diagnostics aimed at detecting RFUs associated with a cancer-specific immune response. These TCR RFUs, by aggregating signals across T-cells with similar TCR sequences, may offer a more sensitive marker of disease at earlier stages. Moreover, the analysis of TCR repertoire functional units is done utilizing the buffy coat, a residual fraction of a standard liquid biopsy blood draw. This use of available, leftover liquid biopsy material positions Serum Detect's technology as a highly complementary and orthogonal method to existing diagnostic approaches, potentially broadening the scope for early-stage cancer detection.

"Detecting cancer early, before it has spread throughout the body, remains the primary way to achieve cancer cures," said Roman Yelensky, PhD, Serum Detect's founder and CEO. “Too often the diagnosis is late, limiting treatment options and increasing mortality. The development of novel, practical, and cost-effective technologies to save lives by detecting cancer early is a critical priority in biomedical research and Serum's goal.”

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