Identifying Cancer Biomarkers in Blood: A New Hope for Future Cancer Treatment

CONCERT Infrastructure Grant Awardee – Associate Professor Therese Becker

Sometimes the tiniest details can make all the difference. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Centre for Circulating Tumour Cell Diagnostics and Research (CCDR) where Associate Professor, Therese Becker and her team have been delving into blood samples, on a minute scale, with the aim of identifying personal cancer characteristics known as biomarkers.

With 30-years experience in medical research (with most of those studying cancer), it is not surprising that A/Prof Becker (and collaborators) were recently awarded CONCERT’S Infrastructure Grant. The grant has resulted in the purchase of Next Generation Sequencing Instruments which will allow her to take her research to the next level. The instruments enable scientists to look closely at specific cancer genes which will provide important information about how patients should best be treated.

“The equipment is highly sophisticated and can analyse cancer-associated genes from a simple blood sample, bringing unprecedented research capacity to CONCERT, the Ingham Institute and collaborating institutions,” explains A/Prof. Becker.

“We use our equipment to do next generation sequencing which allows us to understand whether there are changes in cancer genes, known as mutations. The new equipment enables us to find these cancer mutations in a simple blood sample. When a patient responds to therapy or has a tumour removed, we expect to see less tumour DNA (or mutations) in the blood. Later on, months after the surgery we can observe a patient’s blood sample to see if the mutation levels are rising, indicating relapse of the cancer. With this equipment, we can see the cancer relapsing long before clinical images can see it, sometimes by up to six months,” explains A/Prof. Becker.

This remarkable insight may allow changes to be made to patient management and help tailor personalised cancer treatment in the future.

Asked why she chose a career in medical research, Therese’s answer is simple.

“I wanted to do something that helped people but I didn’t want to get too close.”

Ironically, her research into the tiniest details of a patient’s blood has brought her closer to cancer patients than she could have imagined. And it is in these tiny details that lives could, one day, be changed.

By Linda Music