At the moment, the only way to assess the genetic profile of glioblastoma is via brain biopsy. And the only way to detect a brain tumor noninvasively is using brain imaging, such as by MRI or PET scans. Often, by the time patients develop symptoms of glioblastoma, the disease is so advanced as to be incurable, and often, inoperable.
Other cancer types also apparently extrude microvesicles, including breast cancer, suggesting these findings may be generalizable to other solid tumors. But, "we were the first to show for any cancer that you could pick up a mutated RNA in the exosomes of the cancer," Breakefield said.
According to statistics from the National Cancer Institute, about 22,000 Americans will be diagnosed this year with some form of brain or other nervous system tumor; 13,000 brain cancer patients will die this year. Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was diagnosed with malignant glioma.
"I think [this study] represents a novel finding and potentially a major breakthrough in the way we measure gene expression in tumors and the ease by which it can be done by simply a blood test," said Dr. John Yu, Director of Surgical Neuro-Oncology at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.
First, however, these findings will have to be validated, and their clinical relevance established, cautioned Dr. Jeremy Rich of the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio. "There's a lot of work that needs to be done in the interval, but to say that little parts of the tumor basically are being given off, and that we can assess those, is a pretty exciting concept," Rich said.
Concluded Fisher, "You have to mitigate the enthusiasm, because it is the first time through, and there are a lot of things that are first-time-through that don't pan out. But as I was reading this, I thought, this is awes
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