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  • New Blood Test Shows Promise in Detecting Early-Stage Ovarian Cancer

    Researchers at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center have developed a new blood test that may distinguish between cancerous and benign pelvic masses with up to 91% accuracy. This new tool could drastically enhance our ability to detect the early stages of high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC), the most common and lethal form of ovarian cancer.

    Current Challenges in Ovarian Cancer Detection
    One major challenge with ovarian cancer, particularly HGSOC, is the lack of effective early screening methods. When patients present with a pelvic mass—an abnormal lump or growth in the lower abdomen—clinicians often struggle to ascertain its nature prior to surgery. Due to the limitations associated with biopsies in this context, doctors face difficulties in selecting the most appropriate treatment plan.

    This predicament may soon change with the introduction of a liquid biopsy designed to detect specific nucleic acids circulating in the blood. Recent findings published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research highlight its potential to outperform existing tests.

    Bodour Salhia, Ph.D., the study's corresponding author and leader of the Epigenetic Regulation in Cancer Program at USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, emphasized the implications of this new test: "The test has the potential to improve treatment because the surgical approach to removing a pelvic mass differs depending on whether it’s benign or not. Right now, doctors essentially have to take their best guess."
    Lynda Diane Roman, MD, further elucidated the benefits by stating that knowing more about the mass before surgery could point to which type of surgeon and which method of surgery is best for the patient.

    OvaPrint™: A Deeper Look
    The test, termed OvaPrint™, employs a cell-free DNA methylation liquid biopsy technique. It specifically looks for circulating DNA in the blood that exhibits methylation at particular nucleic acids. DNA methylation is a complex cellular process that can serve as a biological marker of disease.

    Designed to spot HGSOC in its early stages, OvaPrint™ differs from most existing tests, which struggle to identify early-stage cancer consistently. During the study, the team, led by Salhia, concentrated on the HGSOC subtype of ovarian cancer. Over 370 tissue and blood samples were collected and scrutinized. Employing next-generation sequencing, the researchers discerned distinct DNA methylation patterns between normal tissue and HGSOC tissue. This enabled the creation of a blood test to find circulating DNA in the blood with these specific methylation patterns.

    By applying machine learning, a classifier was established to differentiate between benign and HGSOC blood plasma samples.

    Implications and Future Directions
    With its 91% accuracy rate, OvaPrint™ exhibits a balance of high sensitivity and specificity, a combination that is not commonly seen in many other available tests.

    Beyond its potential diagnostic application, the team is exploring the test's utility as a screening tool for the general population. Salhia expressed the transformative potential of such early detection: "If we can accurately identify early-stage ovarian cancer, we can change the outcome of the disease and really crank up survival rates."

    Salhia has established a biotechnology company, CpG Diagnostics Inc., to further the development of OvaPrint™ as a leading diagnostic solution for ovarian cancer. The next steps involve a follow-up study to validate their preliminary findings. If successful, a commercially viable version could be available for clinical use within two years. Additionally, efforts are underway to adapt OvaPrint™ to detect other ovarian cancer subtypes and to refine it for widespread population screening.

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