Research from Curtis’ lab shows that some cancers are simply born to be bad. That is, from Day One, mutations and epigenomic factors render the cancerous cells aggressive, malignant and more lethal overall. One day, Curtis hopes, a blood-based analysis could detect that kind of aggressive cancer and its point of origination, all before the patient even shows symptoms. In that sense, it would work as a screen, she posits — something that everyone could incorporate into their routine annual checkup.
That’s still a long time away, Curtis said. But in her research, she’s beginning to apply the blood-based technique to consenting cancer patients, working backward to test her technology’s ability to pinpoint cancer types and aberrant signaling from cell-free DNA. So far, their preliminary research has yielded robust results.