[Excerpted from Stanford News]
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and a growing problem around the world, but not because it's a particularly difficult cancer to detect and halt. The problem, doctors and researchers believe, is that not enough people are being screened for early signs of the disease, either because they do not know the recommendations or because they are avoiding getting a colonoscopy, which many perceive as an unpleasant procedure.
The current alternatives, said Professor Shan Wang, aren't exactly more pleasant – most of those involve gathering and testing stool samples.
But Shan, his graduate student Jared Nesvet and Uri Ladabaum, a professor of medicine, may have at least a possible solution: a blood test to detect colorectal cancer, which in principle would be less expensive, less invasive and more convenient than colonoscopies and other current tests, the researchers said. Wang and Nesvet have already developed a test that works in the controlled environment of a materials science lab, and now, with help from a Stanford ChEM-H seed grant, the trio are working to validate their approach in the real world of clinical medicine.
Shan and Nesvet have tested their idea in the lab, and it works well so far, Nesvet said. Now, with help from Ladabaum and the ChEM-H grant, they'll start testing it on blood samples from real patients. Among the questions they'll address are practical ones about how to identify the right people to study, when to draw blood or how to handle the samples.
"That's where we as clinical researchers can help," Ladabaum said.
Shan cautions that a new screen for colon cancer is still a ways off, and that it could involve hundreds, if not thousands, of blood samples before they can be confident their blood test really works. "I expect this will be a five- to 10-year study to bring this technology to fruition," he said.