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Outside the Lab Liquid biopsy, Profession, Technology and innovation, Screening and monitoring

Flesh or Blood

Liquid biopsy – a phrase we’re hearing ever more frequently in pathology news. Headline-worthy for its ability to detect genetic material and cancers faster and more easily than conventional methods, liquid biopsy also carries the advantages of requiring only a simple blood draw rather than a sampling of tumor tissue. It’s certainly understandable why a technique that decreases the time pathologists spend performing tests – and, importantly, is far less invasive than a traditional tissue biopsy – would catch the attention of medical professionals and patients alike.

In spite of these seemingly convincing benefits, adoption of the technique has been slow – a hurdle an Australian research institute is hoping to overcome.

The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute has become that first laboratory in Australia accredited by the National Association of Testing Authorities to implement the liquid biopsy technology, and for them, the method is already saving lives (1).

But there are other factors encouraging the adoption of liquid biopsy too – like the various technologies being developed to boost its benefits. One example is droplet digital PCR (ddPCR), a technology that allows researchers to screen blood samples for tiny amounts of circulating DNA.

It’s already being used in the Australian lab to detect and analyze cancer genes, and its creators hope to see its popularity increase. Dawne Shelton, staff scientist at Bio-Rad Laboratories where the method was developed, says, “There are indications that liquid biopsies could help a wide variety of conditions. Data is being accumulated on autoimmune diseases and viral diseases, prenatal screening, and much more.”

The aim is not for the technique to overtake existing methods, but to serve alongside them. “Liquid biopsies will never fully replace traditional biopsies,” says Shelton. “However, they will probably replace some of their uses, especially where invasive biopsies are particularly risky. New methods will evolve where more conventional methods are simply not acceptable, like in disease monitoring after treatment.”

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  1. Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, “Melanoma blood test saves Lives”, (2016). Available at: bit.ly/2gb0H93. Accessed December 5, 2016.
About the Author
William Aryitey

My fascination with science, gaming, and writing led to my studying biology at university, while simultaneously working as an online games journalist. After university, I travelled across Europe, working on a novel and developing a game, before finding my way to Texere. As Associate Editor, I’m evolving my loves of science and writing, while continuing to pursue my passion for gaming and creative writing in a personal capacity.

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