MEETING REPORT: Circulating Biomarkers 2015

The Beatson Institute of Cancer Research, Bearsden, Glasgow, hosted ‘Circulating Biomarkers 2015’, a Biotexcel conference and workshop. The role of circulating biomarkers in early diagnosis and treatment monitoring is gaining momentum with kits for analysing DNA and RNA from circulating tissue already on the market, and liquid biopsy products in development. The analysis of circulating biomarkers allows less expensive and less invasive screening of patients, and so would enable the early diagnosis of disease and hence timely treatment, for example in pancreatic cancer where presentation typically occurs too late for a cure to be achieved. Also, monitoring of treatment in, for example, breast cancer patients by screening of circulating tumour cells will allow clinicians to make better and quicker decisions about the best therapy for the patient.
In the now familiar format, the meeting included a mix of lectures, a networking workshop, a panel debate, and technology presentations.  The lectures included, among others, presentations on the analysis of circulating tumour DNA (Prof. Charles Coombes, Imperial College London, UK; Dr Gerhardt Attard, Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden, Surrey, UK), RNA (Prof. Sue Burchill, Leeds Institute of Cancer and Pathology, UK), circulating tumour cells (CTCs) (Dr Vera Cappelletti, National Cancer Institute, Milan, Italy; Dr François-Clément Bidard, Institut Curie, Paris, France) and micro RNA (Dr Alberto Rocci, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester, UK). Other talks discussed the potential of metabolomic biomarkers in cancer (Dr Oliver Maddocks, Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow, UK) and how to use a variety of biomarkers and other parameters for the evaluation of the complex  situation of ageing and lifespan (Prof. Paul Shiels, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK).
The technology presentations included talks on technology for the enrichment of circulating cell-free DNA (Dr Vipulkumar Patel, Analytik Jena), coupling the CellSearch system (CellSearch) and DEPArray platform (Silicon Biosystems) to isolate single CTCs (by Dr Francesca Fontana (Silicon Biosystems) and targeted biomarker detection by MassARRAY (Dr Malcolm Plant, Agena Bioscience).
The panel debate was centred around the question, ‘CTCs vs. cfDNA vs. miRNA vs. mRNA: which is better and why?’ but perhaps the more interesting discussion that evolved was on the ethics of biomarker analysis (Is it ethical to screen for a condition where there is no treatment ?) and the practicalities of screening (How do we screen for conditions that need to be caught before the presentation of symptoms?). Additionally, the meeting provided many networking opportunities and the benefit of such discussion will, no doubt, be borne out by the development and continuation of new and existing collaborations. A very profitable meeting for all involved.