Scientists want to identify blood markers that detect cancer early

JOPLIN, Mo. – Could small amounts of genetic material in the bloodstream be used to detect cancer in its earliest stages?

A study underway at Mercy Cancer Center in Joplin and 73 health centers across the U.S., including Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic, is helping to answer that question. They’re working with GRAIL, a life sciences company, to collect blood samples from 7,000 newly diagnosed cancer patients and 3,000 participants without cancer nationwide. Mercy Joplin joined the study May 17.

GRAIL will analyze the blood samples and map them using gene sequencing to look for what’s common among cancer patients that makes them different from those without cancer. The goal is to detect cancer in its earliest, most curable stage, and put an end to diagnoses that leave little hope for patients and families.

“Our approach will produce more than a terabyte of data per individual,” said Jeff Huber, chief executive officer of GRAIL. “We’ll create datasets of a scale and complexity that are unprecedented in genomic medicine.”

The hope is that researchers can use the information to find patterns of cancer that can be detected in the blood, before the tumors advance. Initial results should be known in three to five years, according to Dr. Samir Dalia of Mercy Clinic Oncology and Hematology – Joplin

“This will help advance cancer research over the next 10 years. Blood testing is the future of cancer care,” Dr. Dalia said. “We may detect cancers earlier with the findings of this study and save lives.”

Mercy seeks cancer patients with a positive biopsy who haven’t begun treatment and haven’t had cancer previously, said Esmeralda Carrillo, a clinical research nurse with Mercy who’s helping coordinate the study locally.

“We are excited that Mercy Joplin has access to this cutting-edge study,” Carrillo said. “Bringing this study to Joplin and making it available only at Mercy is an indication of the high quality of our cancer center.”

Mercy patients interested in participating in the study at no cost can contact Carrillo at 417-556-3074. If you are not a Mercy patient and want to enroll in the study, call 417-827-7722 to make an appointment with a cancer specialist. GRAIL will give cancer patients a $25 gift card for participating.

GRAIL is a life sciences company whose mission is to detect cancer early when it can be cured. GRAIL is using the power of high-intensity sequencing, population-scale clinical trials, and computer science and data science to enhance the scientific understanding of cancer biology and develop blood tests for early-stage cancer detection. For more information, visit www.grail.com.

Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.