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Refined Prognosis and Relapse Detection in Childhood Cancer

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Bild: St. Anna Kinderkrebsforschung
from left: Sabine Taschner-Mandl, Inge Ambros, Peter Ambros, Polyxeni Bozatzi, Fikret Rifatbegovic, Ruth Ladenstein

(Vienna, 13 May 2020) Liquid Biopsy, a method that has been further developed at St. Anna Children's Cancer Research Institute (CCRI) with international partners, enables a close monitoring of the tumour and allows the detection of a relapse before it becomes clinically manifest. This method is now a fixed component in the clinical diagnosis of neuroblastoma, the most common extracranial tumour in children.

The Tumour Biology Team at CCRI under the leadership of Peter Ambros and Inge Ambros, now headed by Sabine Taschner-Mandl, together with research partners from the Charité Berlin, the Institut Curie in Paris, the University of Ghent and the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, aims to investigate the genetic background of neuroblastomas using state-of-the-art methods in order to investigate its effects on clinical prognosis and to obtain a reliable basis for liquid biopsy studies.

Early detection of relapse by liquid biopsy
The research team examined the prognostic relevance of the so-called 'liquid biopsy'. This procedure is based on the fact that DNA released from tumour cells can usually also be detected in the blood, which allows its analysis with highly sensitive methods. In contrast to tumour biopsy, the taking of blood samples is not or hardly invasive and can therefore often be carried out from routine blood tests during the course of the disease. In order to make this possible, the research team has adapted the methods for genome analyses. This is particularly relevant for infants and toddlers, as any additional blood sampling should be avoided.

The aim of this study was to find out whether this method has an additional clinical benefit in neuroblastoma patients. In a pilot study it could now be shown that the detection of tumour DNA from the peripheral blood of children with neuroblastomas is a very sensitive additional method to the ultra-sensitive bone marrow analysis that has been used for years in order to be able to carry out close monitoring. With this method we could also prove that a recurrence is detectable even at low tumor load and before its clinical manifestation. These data, which have been obtained on 19 patients so far, are extremely promising, but still need to be validated in an international study.

"From now on, the application of state-of-the-art liquid biopsy techniques and thus the detection of even small amounts of tumor DNA in the blood will be an important pillar for the course of the disease and the pre-clinical detection of recurrence in neuroblastoma patients," said the head of the study, Peter Ambros.

The project "Overcoming Neuroblastoma Tumour HETerogeneity, Resistance and RecurrAnCe" (ONTHETRRAC) was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF, International Programme ERA-NET for Cancer Research, TRANSCAN) and the national funding agencies of the cooperation partners and was successfully completed at the end of October 2019.