Health Care

Flinders University trial to evaluate new blood test for personalized cancer treatment

A blood test to help guide the treatment of esophageal, stomach and bowel cancers will be evaluated in a new Flinders University trial set to get underway. The trial is thanks to a federal government grant of almost $2 million announced yesterday, with Flinders University awarded funding for three projects, totaling $5.8 million.

The research builds on a successful collaboration between Flinders University, CSIRO and biotechnology company Clinical Genomics that developed a blood test for bowel cancer. The blood test is currently offered under the brand name COLVERA® in the US as a tool to aid in the detection of cancer relapse after treatment.

The new successful grant is based on further research supported by the Flinders Foundation that showed the test used for bowel cancer could also be used to detect esophageal and stomach cancers.

Now, a Flinders University-led research team will expand clinical trial studies to determine whether the test can be used for new indications such as monitoring the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers. Together, gastrointestinal cancers of the esophagus, stomach and bowel accounted for the second most common cancer group in Australia in 2020.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Erin Symonds, from SA Health and Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute, says a quick and effective test to monitor a cancer patient’s treatment response would revolutionize how we manage and care for affected patients.

“Currently, there is no simple and sensitive test that informs how well a patient is responding to treatment, be it chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery,” says Associate Professor Symonds. “Patients are either treated according to existing medical convention, or the cancer needs to be detected by a scan, at which point changing the treatment options may be too late.

“And it’s not just being able to change treatments that’s important for saving lives. If a patient is responding well to treatment, a test result may mean avoiding risky surgery or at the very least bring hope to the patient that treatment is on the right track.”

The test works by detecting a particular type of change to the DNA that is specific to cancer, which may be shed into the blood stream. The DNA test has been shown in multiple clinical trials to be better than the blood test that is currently used by doctors in hospitals.

“Our research has shown that the DNA blood test is twice as sensitive than the standard clinical blood test that is in use, and therefore may offer the ability to indicate whether the course of action is actually working earlier in the treatment plan.

“Depending on the results, doctors, together with their patients, will be able to make informed decisions about the right treatment strategy, ensuring a more personalized approach to treatment that will lead to improved survival and well-being.”

Associate Professor Symonds says the goal is to get the test into hospitals and treatment clinics as soon as they can.

Should our trial be successful, it will enable personalized adjustment of treatment, have a significant impact on quality of life for newly diagnosed cancer patients and improve survival outcomes, while also generating cost savings for cancer care and treatment.”


Erin Symonds, Lead Researcher, Associate Professor, SA Health and Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute

The research grant for the project has been awarded by the federal government’s 2020 Genomics Health Futures Mission Grant Opportunity through the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF).

Three Flinders University-led projects received MRFF grants yesterday, totaling $5.8 million. The two other projects include $2.4 million to investigate the treatment of cancers with an unknown origin, including for Indigenous Australians. While a second project received $1.4 million for the Partnership in iSupport Program, which is expected to improve quality of life and health for informal carers and people living with dementia.

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