Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson, from the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, has proven that blood samples could be just as effective as tissue biopsies in analysing the behaviour of some cancers.
The discovery could fast-track cancer treatment, giving doctors advanced warning when their treatments are not working — and time to change their tactics.
The research, published today in the Nature Communications journal, showed how “circulating DNA” could be accurately detected and measured in the bloodstream.
Dr Dawson said everybody had “small fragments of DNA” in their bloodstream: “But cancer patients actually have much higher levels … and that’s because the cancer itself can shed small amounts of this DNA into the bloodstream.”
Until recently, accurately detecting and measuring the amounts of this DNA in blood plasma had been like “looking for a needle in a haystack”, she said.