A non-invasive blood test could help doctors to diagnose cancer and monitor patient responses to treatment, based on the outcomes of MPCCC research project, The PRECISE Assay (personalised medicine for cancer patients using next-generation sequencing).

“We have designed a gene sequencing test that can inform doctors of the state and molecular properties of a patient’s cancer, in addition to estimating how they will respond to treatment,” said Chief Investigator Associate Professor Jake Shortt, Head of Haematology Research at Monash University’s School of Clinical Sciences.

One of the major strengths of the approach is that the PRECISE assay requires only a small sample of blood, which is much less intrusive for patients than most existing DNA tests that require a tissue biopsy.

“With just a small blood sample, this test yields a comprehensive snapshot of a patient’s cancer profile, both prior to and during treatment,” A/Professor Shortt said.

With funding provided by the MPCCC’s 2016 Research Grant, the project team designed and procured the Precise gene capture panel and three sub-panels and then validated the tests by sequencing the DNA of patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer. One patient with a cancer of unknown primary (CUP) was also included in the study.

The work also involved establishing bioinformatics analysis protocols and quality control steps for each stage of implementation.

“The results look very promising and we hope to go to the next stage of integrating this test into clinical trials planned within MPCCC and other Australian Cancer Centres,” said A/Prof Shortt.

Although genetic sequencing is an expensive process, the cost has reduced significantly over the past five years and is likely to become increasingly accessible as technologies improve.

“Eventually, we would like to see this test used on all cancer patients,” said A/Prof Shortt, who is applying for funding to extend the scope of The PRECISE Assay in 2020.