A non-invasive method to predict the relapse of childhood cancers using cancer cells found in the patient’s blood, has been discovered by a team of scientists and doctors from KKH, National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the Institute for Health Innovation and Technology.

“Our novel approach may detect ‘leftover’ disease in the blood that is not identified by current means of tests. This could one day save patients’ lives through appropriate early interventions to prevent relapse,” shared Dr Amos Loh, Senior Consultant, Department of Paediatric Surgery, and Chair of the Paediatric Brain and Solid Tumour Programme, KKH.

Genes identified to predict likelihood of cancer spread

Pain-free and less costly, the method requires only a small blood sample from the patient. The circulating cancer cells are isolated and analysed for the presence of genes which may determine the likelihood of cancer spread and relapse.

Neuroblastoma is the most common form of solid tumour affecting children and the cause of a disproportionate number of childhood cancer deaths. “We have further identified several genes that predicted relapse in a group of neuroblastoma patients, including genes known to be associated with a more aggressive disease state in neuroblastoma,” said Associate Professor Chen Zhi Xiong from the Department of Physiology and NUS Centre for Cancer Research at NUS Medicine.

The team is seeking to expand this method to other childhood cancers, and investigating more biological entities that may be useful in monitoring treatment effectiveness, and predicting cancer spread and relapse.