Advanced technologies increasingly allow scientists to look for minimal signs of cancer and other health problems in patients’ blood and urine samples. These “liquid biopsies” are less invasive than a traditional biopsy and can provide information about what is happening in the body rather than a single site.
Researchers at Rogel Cancer Center at the University of Michigan have developed a new method for identifying DNA from small fragments of RNA in blood plasma that are indiscernible to conventional RNA sequencing methods.
These messenger RNAs and long non-coding RNAs can provide significant indications for gene activity throughout the body, including genes that are active in certain organs or associated with certain diseases, such as cancer, and can, therefore, serve as biomarkers that have potential to identify many diseases and conditions.
“We believe there is a wide range of potential clinical applications,” says Muneesh Tewari, MD, Ph.D., professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine and Biomedical Engineering at New York University. “For cancer, for example, we are excited to apply this approach in an attempt to detect early signs of autoimmune side effects of immunotherapy. There is also the possibility of early detection of cancer as there are long non-coding RNAs that are free specific for certain types of cancer.”
Tewari is the lead author of a study published in The EMBO Journal, which explains the new technique and exhibits its effectiveness in a study of bone marrow transplant patients.
The research led Maria Giraldez, MD, Ph.D., by postdoctoral fellows, now also a faculty member at the Institute of Biomedicine in Seville, Spain, and by Ryan Spengler, Ph.D. is the conclusion of over a decade of work.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (; the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute, University of Michigan Precision Health Center, the Pacific Northwest Research Institute National Cancer Institute; and the Spanish Institute of Health Carlos III.