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Conquest - Translational Research


Translational Research

By: Valerie Mehl
Date: March 21, 2011

A CRF Model for Cancer Discovery

RESEARCH:  CRF investigator Victor Velculescu, M.D., Ph.D., and team deciphered the unique genetic blueprint for colon cancer, revealing unique cellular alterations and the gene pathways through which they work.

TRANSLATION:  Velculescu and CRF investigator Luis Diaz, M.D., developed a simple, inexpensive blood test that can detect colon cancer DNA in circulating blood.  The test could be used for early detection of colon cancer and to monitor for cancer progression and recurrence.

APPLICATION:  The blood test is currently being studied in colon cancer patients to verify its accuracy.

POPULATION:  Through a 2011 CRF research grant, John Groopman, Ph.D., and Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H., are applying the blood test developed by Velculescu and Diaz to colon cancer screening. 

Colon cancer is curable almost all of the time if it is detected early.  Colonoscopy is currently the most effective way of detecting colon cancer and removing polyps in the colon that may cause colon cancer, but is has shortcomings.  Colonoscopy cannot distinguish between benign polyps and precancerous ones. It is an invasive test with some associated risks and inconveniences, and, as a result, many people do not take advantage of it.  Fewer than 70 percent of Marylanders comply with colonoscopy screening recommendations.

Groopman and Platz are studying the colon cancer blood test in patients for its ability to detect KRAS mutations in the circulating blood of people with adenomatous or precancerous polyps.  This mutation is associated with dangerous polyps or adenomas that are genetically destined to become colon cancer.  If their studies confirm that the test can accurately pinpoint which polyps will become cancers, it provides a new simple, inexpensive, and virtually risk-free tool for colon cancer screening.