AACR: Sessions Detail Advances in Liquid Biopsies, Machine Learning and Technology Transfer

This year, AACR took place in Atlanta, Georgia, at the Georgia World Congress Center from March 29 to April 3. The conference brought together 21,000 scientists and life science professionals, and 533 exhibiting companies. Sessions not only covered the newest clinical and translational research, but also how AI and machine learning are improving our ability to understand what we already know on a genomic level. Organizations such as the NCI presented on topics including policy, technology transfer and the benefits of private-public partnerships.

One of the main symposia covered the uses of liquid biopsy in brain tumors and metastases, particularly when testing for circulating cancer cells (CTC), circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) and cell-free DNA. This was discussed particularly in the context of Glioblastomas, for which survival rate is low due to the rapid metastasis and adaptation of the brain environment. Consequently, utilizing liquid biopsies would allow for non-invasive methods to obtain the needed biopsy material—for instance, for brain metastases, blood or cerebro-spinal fluid for primary brain tumors. Using a combination of liquid biopsy techniques led to more information.

Presenters spoke of methods for enhancing sensitivity of liquid biopsies including

proximal sampling, analysis of additional markers and cell-free DNA biology as well as analysis of patient-specific NGS panels. These sessions also touched on the limitations and challenges of other approaches, particularly sampling error. During early stages, detecting low levels of ctDNA becomes very difficult, but combining strategies improve the rate of detection.

Other sessions also touched on the need for data and how AI and machine learning can provide the gateway into further exploration. Speaker Eliezer Van Allen, MD, Medical Oncology of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, opened the session discussing the challenge of distinguishing primary versus metastatic stages at a genomic level in the context of prostate cancer. He spoke about how machine learning and clinical computational oncology could help us understand not only which genes or pathways lead to metastasis, but also how and why those genes and pathways interact with genes we have yet to explore. He explained how the multi-disciplined approach and convergence of genomics and machine learning could help provide more clean data. He also touched on the Metastatic Prostate Cancer project, a patient-driven project to making more data available publicly, including responses to therapies and clinical phenotypic data.

The session presented by Anna Wu, PhD, Molecular Imaging & Therapy—Beckman Research Institute, covered the use ImmunoPET for visualization of T cell responses in immunotherapy. Her session covered the use of engineered antibodies tagged with zirconium or copper specific to CD4 and CD8 T cells as a way to track if an immunotherapy is providing the expected results both in vivo and in vitro. For example, when tested in humanized mice, the tagged antibodies showed high on the heat map in the lymph nodes, as well as areas of clearance and as a decrease in tumor size, mapping the progress of the therapy. When tissue was examined, the results showed similar conclusions.

The NCI  held a panel with Emory University and Georgia State University about technology transfer and the opportunities that federal and university offices of technology transfer have with relation to public-private partnerships and how they provide the resources to drive research forward.

The 533 exhibiting companies presented everything from cell technologies to new instruments that vastly improve workflows. Amgen presented a demo of its Bispecific T cell Engager (BiTE) technology as a method to overcome malignant cell’s evasion of the immune system. Our April 15th issue of Instrument Business Outlook will further detail more exciting technologies presented at AACR this year. Click here for a free trial and stay tuned!

Next year, AACR will be held in sunny San Diego at the San Diego Convention Center from April 24 to April 29.