Biopsies can be replaced with simple blood tests, Hebrew U. research finds

The test has the ability to detect onset stages of cancer, among others, as well as pinpoint the origin location in the body.

Dr. Israa Sharkiya at the Hebrew University lab, working on the new blood test technology.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
Dr. Israa Sharkiya at the Hebrew University lab, working on the new blood test technology.
A new blood testing method is being developed that could pinpoint cancer presence, especially at early stages, autoimmune diseases, infections, and lung and heart problems. The beauty of it is that it doesn't require a biopsy, which can often be invasive and painful.
The new method was presented and published in a study in the Nature Biotechnology journal, and was developed in the lab of Hebrew University Prof. Nir Friedman, from the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences, and the Rachel and Selim Benin School of Computer Science and Engineering, and Dr. Ronen Sadeh, at the university's Grass Center for Bioengineering.
Another advantage to the method is how fast it is — because it is just a simple blood test, "it can be administered often and quickly, allowing the medical staff involved to follow the presence or development of a disease more closely," explained Dr. Israa Sharkiya.
Sadeh added that the group founded the Senseera medical company, which will conduct clinical trials and communicate directly with pharmaceutical companies to try to get the test out to the public as soon as possible.
Biopsies are the process by which a small amount of sample cells are extracted to determine either the presence of a disease or its severity in the body.
But why? What are the disadvantages of a biopsy?
They often come with much pain and discomfort to the patient, and don't always provide medical staff with proper access to the sample cells needed.
Additionally, the necessity of the examination isn't always known until a disease — cancer, for example — is in its later, more serious stages, at which point the biopsy gets done.
Perhaps most importantly, blood tests are much cheaper.
Progress has been made in the last few years to analyze dead cell material that gets infused into the bloodstream as part of the daily cell renewal process to catch early warning signs of diseases.
The problem with this method is that cells are identical, so when cell material is analyzed and found with antagonizing agents, further testing - usually, a biopsy — is required in order to pin down where the problematic cell material came from.
This new testing method would bypass that issue by recognizing the origin point of the diseased cell — by breaking down the chemical makeup of the DNA, as well as estimating the seriousness of it "to diagnose diseases at the earliest stage," Friedman explained.