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New Gene-based Blood Tests Can Detect Skin Cancers

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Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center and its Perlmutter Cancer Center, have developed two new blood tests that can reliably detect previously unidentifiable forms of the disease.

Genetic testing of tumour and blood fluid samples from people with and without one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer resulted in the development of new tests.

According to the researchers, having quick and accurate monitoring tools for all types of metastatic melanoma, the medical term for the disease, may make it easier for physicians to detect early signs of cancer recurrence.

The new blood tests, which take only 48 hours, are currently only available for research purposes.

“Our goal is to use these tests to make more informed treatment decisions and, specifically, to identify as early as possible when a treatment has stopped working, cancer growth has resumed, and the patient needs to switch therapy,” said senior study investigator and dermatologist David Polsky, Professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

The new tools are the first to identify melanoma DNA in the blood of patients whose cancer is spreading and who lack defects in either the BRAF or NRAS genes, already known to drive cancer growth, the study authors said.

The new tests monitor blood levels of DNA fragments, known as circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), that are released into the blood when tumour cells die and break apart, said Polsky.

Specifically, the tests detect evidence of changes in the chemical building blocks (or mutations) of a gene that controls telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT), a protein that helps cancer cells maintain the physical structure of their chromosomes.

The blood tests were developed in conjunction with Bio-Rad Laboratories in Hercules, California.

The tests may have advantages over current methods for monitoring the disease because the tests avoid the radiation exposure that comes with CT scans, and the tests can be performed more easily and more often.

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