With PHIL we are proposing to design, build and evaluate a system for liquid biopsy (LB). Liquid biopsy, or the capacity to noninvasively isolate and analyse plasma tumour DNA (ptDNA) in blood samples, represents an important tool for modern oncology that enables increasingly safe, personalised, and robust cancer diagnosis and treatment. However, the very low concentration of ptDNA compared with background normal DNA, especially during early stages of cancer, presents a technical challenge to the use of ptDNA as a clinical tool.
A common approach in LB is to use wavelength shifting material which couples specially with the target DNA. By exciting the sample with one wavelength and measuring the shifted light at another wavelength the amount of target DNA in the sample can be determined. While state-of-the-art LB systems require the amplification of the DNA in the blood samples, a costly and time consuming process, our system aims on the detection of low levels of target DNA without amplification. We aim to achieve this by exploiting the usage of low light level sensors and the arrival time distribution. Therefore, we will, in contrast to current systems, use a light source which emits nanosecond pulses. Since the wavelength shifting changes the arrival time, a detailed analysis of the arrival time will allow to achieve new low levels of target DNA detection.
In the 12 months we will design and build the system using mainly commercial solutions for the different system aspects, commission the setup and determine the lowest target DNA levels we can detect with this system. The collaboration between the Institute for High Energy Physics (IFAE) with a long term expertise in detector development and integration and Leitat’s significant experience in medical research, offers a unique combination of the talents necessary for the success of this project. Such a system would have a wide range of applications in the field of health care, one of the challenges of the European society in the next decade.