Hebrew U. research replaces biopsies with simple blood tests

The test relies on a natural process.

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.
Researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) have developed a simple, inexpensive and non-invasive blood test that could act as a biopsy, the university said.
Instead of extracting tissue samples from a subject to diagnose conditions such as cancers, liver diseases or immune disorders, HUJI developed a blood test that could be just as effective.
Normal biopsies where sample tissue is taken for analysis can be painful, and can be unreliable if healthy tissue is selected – and the method can only be used in advanced stages of disease.
Two HUJI researchers, Prof. Nir Friedman and Dr. Ronen Sadeh of the Life Sciences Institute and School of Computer Engineering, published research in Nature Biotechnology that shows how a wide range of diseases can be pinpointed with the simple test.
The blood test would allow lab technicians to accurately identify and determine the state of the diseased cells, and within that diagnose various diseases. It can also identify markers to determine if patients will develop tumorous growths.
"The test relies on a natural process whereby millions of cells in our body die every day and are replaced by new cells," HUJI explained in a statement. "When cells die, their DNA is fragmented and some of these DNA fragments reach the blood and can be detected by DNA sequencing methods.
"However, all our cells have the same DNA sequence, and thus simply sequencing the DNA cannot identify from which cells it originated. While the DNA sequence is identical between cells, the way the DNA is organized in the cell is substantially different," it said.
"The cells write a unique chemical code that can tell us the identity of the cell and even the biological and pathological processes that are going on within it," HUJI concluded.
The research performed by Friedman and Sadeh shows how the approach can be used to not only determine the nature of the disease or tumor, but even goes as far as being able to pinpoint where exactly in the body the disfunction is occurring.
“We understood that if this information is maintained within the DNA structure in the blood, we could use that data to determine the tissue source of dead cells and the genes that were active in those very cells," said Friedman. "Based on those findings, we can uncover key details about the patient’s health.
"We are able to better understand why the cells died – whether it’s an infection or cancer – and based on that, be better positioned to determine how the disease is developing," he explained.
Sadeh added: "We hope that this approach will allow for earlier diagnosis of disease and help physicians to treat patients more effectively. Recognizing the potential of this approach and how this technology can be so beneficial for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, we set up the company Senseera which will be involved with clinical testing in partnership with major pharmaceutical companies with the goal of making this innovative approach available to patients.”