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Ludwig's Luis Diaz to deliver plenary at 2016 AACR Annual Meeting on liquid biopsies for the early detection of cancer

Apr 20, 2016

Ludwig Cancer Research scientist Luis Diaz will be giving a plenary lecture today at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in New Orleans. His talk, titled “Liquid biopsies and the early diagnosis of cancer,” will survey the scientific history and current state of efforts to develop minimally invasive diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancer. An oncologist who has long been at the forefront of this field, Diaz will focus on the technologies and strategies employed to capture and profile DNA shed by tumors.

Such “liquid biopsies” have in recent years become an intense focus of research, as they could aid in the early detection of cancer and so significantly improve outcomes. Several biotechnology companies are today trying to develop and validate liquid biopsies using traces of tumor DNA isolated from blood, saliva and other fluids. Diaz, who is an investigator at the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University, will discuss how his research and the pioneering work of his colleagues Bert Vogelstein and Kenneth Kinzler, co-directors of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University, shaped and continues to influence the field.

In the early 1990s, Vogelstein famously described the specific sequence of mutations that drive colon cancer and applied his findings to develop a genetic test for such tumors. His work laid the foundations for the development of the first noninvasive DNA test for this cancer. The at-home stool test, named Cologuard, won FDA approval in 2014. Diaz, Kinzler, Vogelstein and their colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have recently applied their ever-evolving methods and technologies to develop and assess the use of blood, saliva and Pap smears for the early detection of a broad variety of malignancies.

Diaz, who is also an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins, will describe advancements in ctDNA detection and analysis made by researchers at the Ludwig Johns Hopkins Center, and how others have adapted their approaches in academia and industry. He will also describe the alternative approaches and technologies used by leading researchers at other institutions and companies who are trying to develop similar diagnostics.

The team at Johns Hopkins has also been developing ctDNA tests as part of a five-year, $10 million project Ludwig Cancer Research has launched in collaboration with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for the prevention and early detection of colon cancer. They have begun by evaluating their ctDNA tests as a method to monitor responses to colon cancer therapy. Although colonoscopy is the gold standard for detecting both precancerous and cancerous growths in the large intestine, many people shy away from the procedure or—particularly in developing countries—lack access to it. Liquid biopsies could help address both of these barriers to colon cancer prevention.

Diaz’s plenary lecture is slated to start at 7:45 AM today in the La Nouvelle Orleans Ballroom at the Morial Convention Center.