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Investigational blood test could detect many types of cancer with one blood draw

OHSU tapped to join new early detection study; men and women aged 50 and older may be eligible to participate

beer standing in a research lab with people working behind him

Tom Beer, M.D., deputy director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, one of five sites across the country selected by GRAIL, Inc., a health care company dedicated to detecting cancer early, to join a study designed to improve early detection of cancer. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

The Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University is one of five sites across the country selected by GRAIL, Inc., a health care company dedicated to detecting cancer early, to join a study designed to improve early detection of cancer.

The PATHFINDER study will evaluate the implementation of an investigational early detection test that has been designed to test many types of cancer through a single blood draw, into clinical practice for the first time.

“This is one of the most promising studies we’ve seen to date for a test that could detect multiple types of cancer,” says Tom Beer, M.D., deputy director of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute and principal investigator on the PATHFINDER study. “One of the aspects I’m most excited about is that through OHSU’s participation, people in Oregon will be among the first to have the opportunity to be tested. Being at the forefront of generating new knowledge means we have the ability to bring it to our community faster.”

Beer, talking with a patient

“This is one of the most promising studies we’ve seen to date for a test that could detect multiple types of cancer,” says Beer, left. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Beer will manage the OHSU study concerning solid tumors; Uma Borate, M.D., a co-principal investigator on the OHSU study, will manage the hematologic, or blood-based, cancers.

Men and women aged 50 or older who meet eligibility criteria and receive care at OHSU’s main campus, community and participating health system clinics, may be eligible to participate in PATHFINDER, which currently is accepting applications. Study participants will receive test results within 30 days or less from the time of the blood draw.

About the multi-cancer early detection test

GRAIL’s multi-cancer early detection test is designed to detect many types of cancer through a blood draw. It looks for signals of cancer that currently may be present. If a signal that may be cancer is detected, the test is designed to identify the location in the body the signal may be coming from, for example, the lungs or the colon. This information helps clinicians determine the appropriate tests to confirm whether cancer is present.

GRAIL’s test is capable of detecting more than 20 types of cancer, including cancer types for which no screening tests currently are available. To date, when the blood test signals the presence of cancer, it has assigned the correct organ of origin 93% of the time.

This study is an important step on the multi-cancer early detection test’s path to commercialization.

CEDAR research lab

Research assistant Jenny Chu looks over blood samples in the lab at OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research, CEDAR, Center. GRAIL’s test is capable of detecting more than 20 types of cancer, including cancer types for which no screening tests currently are available. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

The importance of early detection

Beer says people should “pay attention” to the field of early cancer detection because it’s a “quickly evolving field.”

“For many types of cancer, we know that when we can find cancer early, we have better survival rates,” says Beer, also the chief medical officer of the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Cancer Early Detection Advanced Research, CEDAR, Center. “We are focused on methods to detect lethal cancers early while avoiding false-positive results or detecting clinically insignificant conditions. We also know there are many cancer types for which we have no screening methods. The work being done in this field to find screening solutions is ever-evolving, and very exciting.”

CEDAR is the first large-scale early cancer detection center of its kind. Its mission is to detect and stop lethal cancers at the earliest stage because early detection saves lives. By leveraging the world-class researchers at OHSU and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, CEDAR can improve patient lives through collaborative projects in engineering, genetics, early cancer biology, population science, clinical oncology, and clinical trials.

Other PATHFINDER study sites include the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Mayo Clinic, Sutter Health, and Intermountain Healthcare.