Best of all, the researchers say the test could provide an inexpensive means of early diagnosis. This assay could also be used to monitor how well patients respond to cancer therapy, according to a news release.
The protein had previously been identified as a promising biomarker and is readily detectable in tumor tissue, they wrote. However, it is found in extremely low concentrations in blood plasma and is “well below detection limits of conventional clinical laboratory methods,” they noted.
To overcome that obstacle, they employed an ultra-sensitive immunoassay known as a Simoa (Single-Molecule Array), an immunoassay platform for measuring fluid biomarkers.
“We were shocked by how well this test worked in detecting the biomarker’s expression across cancer types,” said lead study author gastroenterologist Martin Taylor, MD, PhD, Instructor in Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in the press release. “It’s created more questions for us to explore and sparked interest among collaborators across many institutions.”
“We’ve known since the 1980s that transposable elements were active in some cancers, and nearly 10 years ago we reported that ORF1p was a pervasive cancer biomarker, but, until now, we haven’t had the ability to detect it in blood tests,” said pathologist and study co-author Kathleen Burns, MD, PhD (above), Chair of the Department of Pathology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School, in a press release. “Having a technology capable of detecting ORF1p in blood opens so many possibilities for clinical applications.” Clinical laboratories may soon have a new blood test to detect multiple types of cancer. (Photo copyright: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.)
In their press release, the researchers described ORF1p as “a hallmark of many cancers, particularly p53-deficient epithelial cancers,” a category that includes lung, breast, prostate, uterine, pancreatic, and head and neck cancers in addition to the cancers noted above.
“Pervasive expression of ORF1p in carcinomas, and the lack of expression in normal tissues, makes ORF1p unlike other protein biomarkers which have normal expression levels,” Taylor said in the press release. “This unique biology makes it highly specific.”
Simoa was developed at the laboratory of study co-author David R. Walt, PhD, the Hansjörg Wyss Professor of Bioinspired Engineering at Harvard Medical School, and Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Simoa technology “enables 100- to 1,000-fold improvements in sensitivity over conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) techniques, thus opening the window to measuring proteins at concentrations that have never been detected before in various biological fluids such as plasma or saliva,” according to the Walt Lab website.
Simoa assays take less than two hours to run and require less than $3 in consumables. They are “simple to perform, scalable, and have clinical-grade coefficients of variation,” the researchers wrote.
Using the first generation of the ORF1p Simoa assay, the researchers tested blood samples of patients with a variety of cancers along with 406 individuals, regarded as healthy, who served as controls. The test proved to be most effective among patients with colorectal and ovarian cancer, finding detectable levels of ORF1p in 58% of former and 71% of the latter. Detectable levels were found in patients with advanced-stage as well as early-stage disease, the researchers wrote in Cancer Discovery.
Among the 406 healthy controls, the test found detectable levels of ORF1p in only five. However, the control with the highest detectable levels, regarded as healthy when donating blood, “was six months later found to have prostate cancer and 19 months later found to have lymphoma,” the researchers wrote.
They later reengineered the Simoa assay to increase its sensitivity, resulting in improved detection of the protein in blood samples from patients with colorectal, gastroesophageal, ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers.
The researchers also employed the test on samples from 19 patients with gastroesophageal cancer to gauge its utility for monitoring therapeutic response. Although this was a small sample, they found that among 13 patients who had responded to therapy, “circulating ORF1p dropped to undetectable levels at follow-up sampling.”
“More Work to Be Done”
The Simoa assay has limitations, the researchers acknowledged. It doesn’t identify the location of cancers, and it “isn’t successful in identifying all cancers and their subtypes,” the press release stated, adding that the test will likely be used in conjunction with other early-detection approaches. The researchers also said they want to gauge the test’s accuracy in larger cohorts.
“The test is very specific, but it doesn’t tell us enough information to be used in a vacuum,” Walt said in the news release. “It’s exciting to see the early success of this ultrasensitive assessment tool, but there is more work to be done.”
More studies will be needed to valid these findings. That this promising new multi-cancer immunoassay is based on a clinical laboratory blood sample means its less invasive and less painful for patients. It’s a good example of an assay that takes a proteomic approach looking for protein cancer biomarkers rather than the genetic approach looking for molecular DNA/RNA biomarkers of cancer.
Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, primarily in the small and large intestine. The cause of the disease is unknown, but genetics may play a role.
Typically, CD patients must undergo repeated colonoscopies to monitor the disease’s progression or remission. This has long been standard practice. Now, however, “AGA recommends the use of biomarkers in addition to colonoscopy and imaging studies,” according to an AGA news release. This hints at a greater role for clinical laboratories in helping physicians manage patients with Crohn’s Disease.
“Patients’ symptoms do not always match endoscopic findings, so biomarkers are a useful tool to understand and monitor the status of inflammation and guide decision making in patients with Crohn’s disease,” said gastroenterologist Siddharth Singh, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UC San Diego Health and a co-author of the new AGA guidelines.
The AGA’s new guidelines demonstrate how medical science is generating new insights about how multiple biomarkers can be associated for diagnosis/management of a disease in ways that change the standard of care, particularly if it can reduce invasive procedures for the patient by the use of less invasive methods (such as a venous blood draw instead of a colonoscopy).
“Based on this guideline, biomarkers are no longer considered experimental and should be an integral part of inflammatory bowel disease care,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan MD (above), a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the guidelines, told Medical News Today. Under the new AGA guidelines, clinical laboratories will play a greater role in helping patients monitor their disease. (Photo copyright: Massachusetts General Hospital.)
Patient’s Needs Determine Biomarker vs Endoscopy Monitoring
AGA’s new guidelines could give patients a more comfortable, cost-effective, and possibly more efficient treatment plan to manage their Crohn’s disease. That’s even true if a patient’s Crohn’s disease is in remission.
With these new guidelines, Crohn’s disease patients in remission would only need their biomarkers to be checked every six to 12 months. Patients with active symptoms would need their biomarkers checked roughly every two to four months.
Biomarker testing can be seen as a useful addition to Crohn’s disease care rather than a full replacement of other forms of care. For example, the new AGA guidelines do not fully omit imaging studies and colonoscopies from treatment. Rather, they are recommended in treatment plans based on the patient’s needs.
In their Gastroenterology paper, the AGA authors wrote, “A biomarker-based monitoring strategy involves routine assessment of symptoms and noninvasive biomarkers of inflammation in patients with CD in symptomatic remission to inform ongoing management. In this situation, normalization of biomarkers is an adequate treatment target—asymptomatic patients with normal biomarkers would continue current management without endoscopy, whereas those with elevated biomarkers would undergo endoscopy.”
Fecal Matter Biomarkers
In speaking with Medical News Today on the benefits of using fecal biomarkers to assess a patient’s disease maintenance, gastroenterologist Jesse Stondell, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor at UC Davis Health, said, “If we start a patient on therapy, they’re not responding appropriately, they’re still having a lot of symptoms, we can check that fecal calprotectin test and get a very quick sense of if things are working or not.
“If the calprotectin is normal, it could be reassuring that there may be other reasons for their symptoms, and that the medicine’s working. But if they have symptoms, and a calprotectin is elevated, that’s a signal that we have to worry the medicine is not working. And that we need to change therapy in that patient,” he added.
“This is a win for Crohn’s disease patients,” Ashwin Ananthakrishnan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the AGA’s new guidelines, told Medical News Today. “Biomarkers are usually easier to obtain, less invasive, more cost-effective than frequent colonoscopies, and can be assessed more frequently for tighter disease control and better long-term outcomes in Crohn’s disease.”
Clinical laboratories should expect these guidelines to increase demand for the processing of blood or fecal matter biomarker testing. As Crohn’s disease monitoring becomes more dependent on biomarker testing, clinical labs will play a critical role in that process.
Federal class action lawsuit looms as genetics company searches for what went wrong; a reminder to clinical laboratories of the importance of protecting patient information
Several years ago, security experts warned that biotechnology and genomics company 23andMe, along with other similar genetics companies, would be attacked by hackers. Now those predictions appear to have come true, and it should be a cautionary tale for clinical laboratories. In an October 6 blog post, the genetic testing company confirmed that private information from thousands of its customers was exposed and may be being sold on the dark web.
According to Wired, “At least a million data points from 23andMe accounts appear to have been exposed on BreachForums.” BreachForums is an online forum where users can discuss internet hacking, cyberattacks, and database leaks, among other topics.
“Hackers posted an initial data sample on the platform BreachForums earlier this week, claiming that it contained one million data points exclusively about Ashkenazi Jews,” Wired reported, adding that “hundreds of thousands of users of Chinese descent” also appear to be impacted.
The leaked information included full names, dates of birth, sex, locations, photos, and both genetic and ancestry results, Bleeping Computer reported.
For its part, 23andMe acknowledges the data theft but claims “it does not see evidence that its systems have been breached,” according to Wired.
Anne Wojcicki (above) is the co-founder and CEO of genetics company 23andMe, which on October 24 told its customers in an email, “There was unauthorized access to one or more 23andMe accounts that were connected to you through DNA Relatives. As a result, the DNA Relatives profile information you provided in this feature was exposed to the threat actor.” Clinical laboratories must work to ensure their patient data is fully secured from similar cyber theft. (Photo copyright: TechCrunch.)
23andMe Claims Data Leak Not a Security Incident
The data leaked has been confirmed by 23andMe to be legitimate. “Threat actors used exposed credentials from other breaches [of other company’s security] to access 23andMe accounts and steal the sensitive data. Certain 23andMe customer profile information was compiled through access to individual 23andMe.com accounts,” a 23andMe spokesperson told Bleeping Computer.
However, according to the company, the leak does not appear to be a data security incident within the 23andMe systems. “The preliminary results of this investigation suggest that the login credentials used in these access attempts may have been gathered by a threat actor from data leaked during incidents involving other online platforms where users have recycled login credentials,” the spokesperson added.
What the genetics company has determined is that compromised accounts were from users choosing the DNA Relative feature on their website as a means to find and connect to individuals related to them. Additionally, “the number of accounts sold by the cybercriminal does not reflect the number of 23andMe accounts breached using exposed credentials,” Bleeping Computer noted.
Price of Private Information
Following the 23andMe data leak, the private genetic information was quickly available online … for a price.
“On October 4, the threat actor offered to sell data profiles in bulk for $1-$10 per 23andMe account, depending on how many were purchased,” Bleeping Computer reported.
Stolen medical records are becoming hotter than credit card information, the experts say. “Stolen records sell for as much as $1,000 each,” according to credit rating agency Experian, Bleeping Computer noted.
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should take note of the value that the dark web places on the medical records of a patient, compared to the credit card numbers of the same individual. From this perspective, hacking a medical laboratory to steal patient health data can be much more lucrative than hacking the credit card data from a retailer.
“Victims of the breach are now at increased risk of fraud and identity theft, and have suffered damages in the form of invasion of privacy, lost time and out-of-pocket expenses incurred responding to the breach, diminished value of their personal information, and lost benefit of the bargain with 23andMe,” according to court documents.
“The lawsuit brings claims of negligence, breach of implied contract, invasion of privacy/intrusion upon seclusion, unjust enrichment, and declaratory judgment,” Bloomberg Law noted. Additionally, the claim states that 23andMe “failed to provide prompt and adequate notice of the incident.”
Plaintiffs are “seeking actual damages, compensatory damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, lifetime credit-monitoring services, restitution, disgorgement, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and pre-and post-judgment interest,” Bloomberg Law reported.
Preventing Future Data Leaks
Years of experts warning genetics companies like 23andMe that they need more strict data security have proven to be true. “This incident really highlights the risks associated with DNA databases,” Brett Callow, a threat analyst at data security firm Emsisoft, told Wired. “The fact that accounts had reportedly opted into the ‘DNA Relatives’ feature is particularly concerning as it could potentially result in extremely sensitive information becoming public.”
“Callow notes that the situation raises broader questions about keeping sensitive genetic information safe and the risks of making it available in services that are designed like social networks to facilitate sharing. With such platforms come all of the data privacy and security issues that have plagued traditional social networks, including issues related to data centralization and scraping,” Wired noted.
Clinical laboratory databases are full of protected health information (PHI). Wise lab managers will work to ensure that their medical lab’s patient data is secure from today’s cyberthreats.
Executives and pathologists from many of the nation’s most prominent clinical laboratories are on their way to the Crescent City today to share best practices, hear case studies from innovative labs, and network
All this is happening amidst important changes to healthcare and medicine in the United States. “Today, the US healthcare system is transforming itself at a steady pace,” explained Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of The Dark Report and Founder of the Executive War College. “Big multi-hospital health systems are merging with each other, and payers are slashing reimbursement for many medical lab tests, even as healthcare consumers want direct access to clinical laboratory tests and the full record of their lab test history.
“Each of these developments has major implications in how clinical laboratories serve their parent organizations, offer services directly to consumers, and negotiate with payers for fair reimbursement as in-network providers,” Michel added. “Attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management equips lab leaders with the tools they’ll need to make smart decisions during these challenging times.”
Now in its 28th year, the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management convenes April 25-26 in New Orleans. Executive War College extends to a third day with three full-day workshops: LEAN fundamentals for lab leaders, a genetic testing program track, and a digital pathology track. Learn more at www.ExecutiveWarCollege.com. (Photo copyright: The Dark Intelligence Group.)
Challenges and Opportunities for Clinical Laboratories
With major changes unfolding in the delivery and reimbursement of clinical services, clinical laboratory and pathology practice leaders need effective ways to respond to the evolving needs of physicians, patients, and payers. As The Dark Report has often covered, three overlapping areas are a source of tension and financial pressure for labs:
Day-to-day pressures to manage costs in the clinical laboratory or pathology practice.
The growing demand for genetic testing, accompanied by reimbursement challenges.
Evolving consumer expectations in how they receive medical care and interact with providers.
Addressing all three issues and much more, the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management features more than 80 sessions with up to 125 lab managers, consultants, vendors, and in vitro diagnostic (IVD) experts as speakers and panelists.
Old-School Lab Rules Have Evolved into New-School Lab Rules
Tuesday’s keynote general sessions (to be reported exclusively in Wednesday’s Dark Daily ebriefing) will include four points of interest for clinical laboratory and pathology leaders who are managing change and pursuing new opportunities:
Positioning the lab to prosper by serving healthcare’s new consumers, new care models, new payment models, and more, with Michel at the podium.
How old-school lab rules have evolved into new-school lab rules and ways to transition the lab through today’s disrupters in healthcare and the clinical laboratory marketplace, with Stan Schofield, Managing Principal of the Compass Group.
Wednesday’s keynotes conclude with a panel discussion on delivering value to physicians, patients, and payers with lab testing services.
Clinical Labs, Payers, and Health Plans Swamped by Genetic Test Claims
Attendees of the 2023 Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management may notice a greater emphasis on whole genome sequencing and genetic testing this year.
As regular coverage and analysis in The Dark Report has pointed out, clinical laboratories, payers, and health plans face challenges with the explosion of genetic testing. Several Executive War College Master Classes will explore critical management issues of genetic and genomic testing, including laboratory benefit management programs, coverage decisions, payer relations, and best coding practices, as well as genetic test stewardship.
This year’s Executive War College also devotes a one-day intensive session on how community hospitals and local labs can set up and offer genetic tests and next-generation sequencing services. This third-day track features more than a dozen experts including:
During these sessions, attendees will be introduced to “dry labs” and “virtual CLIA labs.” These new terms differentiate the two organizations that process genetic data generated by “wet labs,” annotate it, and provide analysis and interpretation for referring physicians.
State of the Industry: Clinical Lab, Private Practice Pathology, Genetic Testing, IVD, and More
For lab consultants, executives, and directors interested in state-of-the-industry Q/A and discussions concerning commercial laboratories, private-practice pathology, and in vitro diagnostics companies, a range of breakout sessions, panels, and roundtables will cover:
Action steps to protect pathologists’ income and boost practice revenue.
Important developments in laboratory legal, regulatory, and compliance requirements.
New developments in clinical laboratory certification and accreditation, including the most common deficiencies and how to reach “assessment ready” status.
An update on the IVD industry and what’s working in today’s post-pandemic market for lab vendors and their customers.
Federal government updates on issues of concern to clinical laboratories, including PAMA, the VALID Act, and more.
Long-time attendees will notice the inclusion of “Diagnostics” into the Executive War College moniker. It’s an important addition, Michel explained for Dark Daily.
“In the recent past, ‘clinical laboratory’ and ‘anatomic pathology’ were terms that sufficiently described the profession of laboratory medicine,” he noted. “However, a subtle but significant change has occurred in recent years. The term ‘diagnostics’ has become a common description for medical testing, along with other diagnostic areas such as radiology and imaging.”
Key managers of medical laboratories, pathology groups, and in vitro diagnostics have much to gain from attending the Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, now in its 28th year. Look for continued coverage through social media channels, at Dark Daily, and in The Dark Report.
In addition, those participants who request them will receive genetic reports that detail whether they “have an increased risk for specific health conditions and how their body might process certain medications.”
The All-of-Us program, which began enrolling people in 2018, is one of the world’s largest—if not the largest—project of its kind. It could result in more than a million human whole genome sequences to drive medical research and speed discoveries. Study findings, for example, may produce new biomarkers for clinical laboratory tests and diagnostics.
In 2020, the All-of-Us program “had begun releasing genetic results for ancestry and a small number of nonclinical genetic traits,” according to GenomeWeb. Now, the program is taking on the greater challenge of sharing health-related genetic test results directly with its participants.
“We really wanted to make sure that we are providing a responsible return to our participants,” Anastasia Wise, PhD, All-of-Us Program Director for the Genetic Counseling Resource, told GenomeWeb. “They might get information that’s unexpected,” she explained.
So far, about 10,000 people received the NIH’s invitation and 56% have shown interest in receiving their genetic test results, GenomeWeb noted.
“Knowledge is powerful,” said Josh Denny, MD (above), Chief Executive Officer, NIH All-of-Us Research Program, in an NIH news release. “By returning health-related DNA information to participants, we are changing the research paradigm, turning it into a two-way street—fueling both scientific and personal discovery that could help individuals navigate their own health,” he added. The NIH’s research could lead to new clinical laboratory precision medicine diagnostics for chronic diseases across a more diverse segment of the US population. (Photo copyright: National Institutes of Health.)
Two Types of Genetic Health Reports
Study participants who provided a blood sample and gave their consent to receiving genomic information may also receive a Hereditary Disease Risk report that includes 59 genes and genetic variants linked to serious and “medically actionable” health conditions.
About 3% to 5% of participants will have findings suggesting a high risk for a genetic disease such as breast and ovarian cancers as indicated by BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, Medical Xpress reported.
“I kind of shudder to think about what could happen if I hadn’t known this [finding that she has the BRCA2 gene],” said Rachele Peterson, All-of-Us Chief of Staff, who spoke to the Associated Press about her receiving own Hereditary Disease Risk report.
Participants can also choose to receive an All-of-Us Medicine and Your DNA report with insights on seven genes that affect how specific medications are metabolized. This pharmacogenetics report is important for those who could learn, for example, that they have a 50% to 60% greater risk of a second heart attack when they continue to take the standard medication, as opposed to a different medication, Medical Xpress noted.
“The information on metabolizing medication can be particularly important for people who need treatment after a heart attack,” Josh Denny, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NIH All-of-Us Research Program, told Medical Xpress.
“Such transparency of genetic information about a massive group—as well as the genetic information on individuals—can be used to improve patient care and clinical outcomes,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.
“The program provides a roadmap for other healthcare organizations to follow. And this is useful strategic knowledge for clinical laboratory leaders to understand and incorporate into their plans to support precision medicine with genetic testing and whole human genome sequencing,” Michel added.
Rich Genetic Data Across a More Diverse Population
As to its goal to reflect national diversity, NIH reported about 80% of All-of-Us participants reside in communities that have been unrepresented in medical research, and that 50% are part of a racial or ethnic minority group.
By combining this information into a single database, the MVP promises to advance knowledge about the complex links between genes and health, according to an MVP news release.
Researchers tapping All-of-Us and MVP data may ultimately produce enlightening and impactful study findings, which could enable clinical laboratories to perform new diagnostic precision medicine tests that identify diseases early and save lives.