CTSA Program Support May Lead to Blood Test for Colon Cancer Screening

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. (HudsonAlpha Institute Photo)

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. (HudsonAlpha Institute Photo).

A colonoscopy is the most reliable way to find polyps, small clumps of cells that can form in the large intestine and lead to colon cancer. But colonoscopies are generally unpleasant and relatively expensive, so too many at-risk patients may avoid getting the procedure.

A simple blood test would be a much less invasive way to detect potentially cancerous polyps. With that goal in mind, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) — an NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hub — teamed up with scientists from the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to identify markers in the blood that could be used to detect precancerous polyps. To find the markers, the researchers gathered blood samples from people undergoing routine colonoscopies at the UAB Medical Center and used a common lab technique to measure quantities of molecules called small RNAs. The study team found a set of small RNAs that were present in people who had colon polyps that were identified through colonoscopy.

If larger studies result in similar findings, this set of small RNAs could become the basis of a blood test for colon polyps and, potentially, for colon cancer. This approach also could be applied to the early detection of other types of cancer. Learn more about this advance.

Posted July 2018