In first, new Israeli blood test could detect pancreatic, colorectal cancers

Method, using special technology to image a single molecule, would be breakthrough for pancreatic cancer, which today cannot be identified by any single diagnostic test

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: a woman gets a blood test. (stefanamer vis iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image: a woman gets a blood test. (stefanamer vis iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli scientists say they have invented a blood test will be able to detect colorectal cancer, which is normally found through an invasive test, and pancreatic cancer, which today has no single diagnostic test.

They claim that the test could also simplify screening for other cancers, and save lives by eliminating invasive colonoscopies for colorectal cancer, which many patients are afraid of and skip.

Dr. Efrat Shema developed a special technology for imaging a single molecule from blood samples, and has successfully used the innovation to screen for colorectal cancer — the cancer used for the proof-of-concept.

She detailed the breakthrough, achieved with her colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science, in a new peer-reviewed journal article published in Nature Biotechnology, revealing that her test achieved 92 percent accuracy in detecting colorectal cancer.

She said initial testing was conducted on colorectal cancer, but the test has been designed to screen for pancreatic cancer as well and will be adapted to detect a wide range of cancers, and possibly other diseases too.

“We’ve achieved a successful proof-of-concept for our method, which now needs to be confirmed in clinical trials,” she stated. “In the future, our approach may serve to diagnose not only various cancers but also additional diseases that leave traces in the blood, such as autoimmune disorders and heart disease.”

Illustrative image: a doctor holding endoscope, which is about to be inserted in to a patient for a colonoscopy. (romaset via iStock by Getty Images)

Her first priority is to carry out clinical testing for pancreatic cancer — which is generally only tested when people have symptoms and requires a range of diagnostic methods, some of them invasive — and for colorectal cancer.

Currently, people over 50 are advised to get colonoscopies to screen for colorectal cancer, but they are invasive, painful and in some countries costly, Shema said, adding that alternative methods also have drawbacks, as obtaining biopsy samples via needle, endoscopy or surgery can be painful and sometimes risky, while imaging methods, such as MRI or PET scans, require costly, bulky equipment that is not universally available.

“We hope to introduce blood tests that could potentially replace colonoscopies for detecting colorectal cancer, which could save lives,” Shema told The Times of Israel. “This is because many people fail to attend colonoscopies, because of its invasiveness or cost, though the same people would be likely to take blood tests.”

Shema said the test needs just 1 milliliter of blood and suggested that while the main focus so far is colorectal cancer, it could be customized to various other cancers.

Using Shema’s imaging technique, her team — which included Nir Erez, Dr. Noa Furth and Vadim Fedyuk — compared the DNA in the blood of 30 healthy individuals with that of 60 patients with different stages of colorectal cancer.

Weizmann Institute of Science researchers (from left to right) Nir Erez, Dr. Noa Furth, Dr. Efrat Shema and Vadim Fedyuk (courtesy of the Weizmann Institute of Science)

It found some differences and built an algorithm with Hebrew University’s Prof. Guy Ron to deliver an analysis of the blood based on these differences.

“Our algorithm could tell the difference between the healthy groups and the patient groups at a record level of certainty for studies of this type – with 92 percent precision,” Shema said.

Her team is now working to move from the proof-of-concept phase, which was just completed, to a wider trial.

Most Popular
read more: