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A comprehensive characterization of the cell-free transcriptome reveals tissue- and subtype-specific biomarkers for cancer detection

Cell-free RNA (cfRNA) is a promising analyte for cancer detection. However, a comprehensive assessment of cfRNA in individuals with and without cancer has not been conducted. We performed the first transcriptome-wide characterization of cfRNA in cancer (stage III breast [n=46], lung [n=30]) and non-cancer (n=89) participants from the Circulating Cell-free Genome Atlas (NCT02889978). Of 57,820 annotated genes, 39,564 (68%) were not detected in cfRNA from non-cancer individuals. Within these low-noise regions, we identified tissue- and cancer-specific genes, defined as "dark channel biomarker" (DCB) genes, that were recurrently detected in individuals with cancer. DCB levels in plasma were correlated with tumor shedding rate and RNA expression in matched tissue, suggesting that DCBs with high expression in tumor tissue could enhance cancer detection in patients with low levels of circulating tumor DNA. Overall, cfRNA provides a unique opportunity to detect cancer, predict the tumor tissue of origin, and determine the cancer subtype.

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Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001006484 303
Publications Citations
A comprehensive characterization of the cell-free transcriptome reveals tissue- and subtype-specific biomarkers for cancer detection.
Nat Commun 12: 2021 2357
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