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Method for Forecasting Cancer Therapy Outcomes Receives US Patent

Researchers at the Center of Genomic Medicine’s Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Core Laboratory recently published their research findings on a novel method that involves using blood samples from esophageal cancer patients to forecast their outcome following a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Their findings were published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics, the most authoritative journal in the field of radiation oncology.

The NTU Office of Research and Development was impressed with this research achievement, and assisted the researchers in applying for patents in Taiwan and overseas. The researchers received a patent in the United States in June while their patent application in Taiwan remains under review.

Scientists have discovered that esophageal cancer, which is more common in men, has been on the rise in both Eastern and Western societies in recent years. Since the symptoms of esophageal cancer are not obvious in the early stages, most patients learn they have cancer only when they seek treatment after experiencing problems with swallowing. By this time, the cancer has already developed to the middle or late stage and the time for the initiation of treatment has been delayed for too long.

Since most esophageal cancer patients receive their diagnoses in the middle or late stage, they tend to opt for a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by surgery. The chemotherapy and radiation therapy are administered first in order to reduce the size of the tumor prior to surgery so as to increase the chances for success and lower the risk of infection. For approximately 10-40% of patients that undergo either chemotherapy or radiation therapy, the course of treatment eradicates tumors completely. However, the therapies do not cause tumors to disappear or even shrink in every patient, and tumors remain the same size or even enlarge for around 30-50% of patients. The patients who have no positive reaction to chemotherapy or radiation therapy must not only endure the side effects of these treatments, but possibly see their chances of survival lessen by the postponement of surgery.

The novel method developed by the researchers at the Bioinformatics and Biostatistics Core Laboratory does not require the collection of tumor cells through surgery, but relies simply on blood samples from the patients. Since the DNA in the blood does not change as a result of time or treatment, the biomarkers obtained allow doctors to predict patients’ treatment outcomes beforehand. These forecasts allow patients and their doctors to make more informed decisions as to whether to choose chemotherapy and radiation therapy or to move directly to surgery. Moreover, this approach is easy for patients to accept because the collection of blood samples is convenient and has a low level of invasiveness.

The research team made its amazing breakthrough under the leadership of Director of the Graduate Institute of Biomedical Electronics and Bioinformatics Prof. Eric Y. Chuang and Director of the NTU Hospital Department of Thoracic Surgery Dr. Chang-ming Lee.

Chinese version