Mayo researchers a step closer to DNA test for liver cancer

Volume 7, Issue 3, 2018


The confirmation of abnormal markers may pave the way for a blood test for primary liver cancer.

John B. Kisiel, M.D.

John B. Kisiel, M.D.

A group of researchers from Mayo Clinic and Exact Sciences Corp. have completed a phase II study comparing a set of DNA markers to alpha fetoprotein as a potential new method to test for liver cancer. The researchers presented their findings at the 2018 Digestive Disease Week conference in Washington, D.C.

"We currently test for liver cancer using ultrasound and a blood protein marker called alpha fetoprotein," said John B. Kisiel, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Unfortunately, these tests are not very sensitive for curable-stage liver cancers, and most patients who need this testing do not have it easily available or aren't able to receive it often enough to be effective."

Dr. Kisiel and his colleagues developed a simple blood test using abnormal DNA markers that are known to exist in liver cancer tissues. They were able to confirm that the abnormal DNA markers were present in the overwhelming majority of blood samples that came from people with primary liver cancers. Simultaneously, these markers were not present in healthy individuals and individuals with cirrhosis of the liver with no evidence of tumors on their clinical follow-up.

"We were most excited that our DNA markers were able to detect more than 90 percent of patients with curable-stage tumors," Dr. Kisiel said. "This is the main reason why we think a DNA test will make a difference, compared to currently available tests." Dr. Kisiel said the next step will be to validate these markers in blood testing on much larger patient cohorts.