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Accurate detection and classification of pediatric sarcomas based on cell-free DNA fragmentation patterns

Sequencing of cell-free DNA in the blood of cancer patients (“liquid biopsy”) provides attractive opportunities not only for early diagnosis, but also for minimally invasive monitoring of treatment response and disease courses. To unlock liquid biopsy analysis for pediatric tumors with few genetic aberrations, we developed an integrated genetic/epigenetic analysis method and applied it to 241 deep whole-genome sequencing profiles of 95 patients with Ewing sarcoma and 31 patients with other pediatric sarcomas. We achieved sensitive detection and classification of circulating tumor DNA in peripheral blood independent of any genetic alterations. We evaluated different metrics for cell-free DNA fragmentation analysis and developed LIQUORICE, a bioinformatic tool for detecting circulating tumor DNA based on tumor-specific chromatin structure. Using machine learning methods, we combined several fragmentation-based metrics into an integrated approach for liquid biopsy analysis tailored to cancers with low mutation rates but widespread epigenetic deregulation. Clinical associations highlighted the potential value of cfDNA fragmentation patterns as prognostic biomarkers in Ewing sarcoma. Additionally, we performed low coverage whole-genome-sequencing on 43 tumor biopsy samples from patients with Ewing sarcoma, in order to compare copy number aberrations detected in cell-free DNA and biopsy samples of the same patients. For validation of the epigenetic signatures inferred from cell-free DNA, we further performed reduced representation bisulfite sequencing (RRBS) on 38 matched biopsy samples from patients with Ewing sarcoma. In summary, our study provides a comprehensive analysis of circulating tumor DNA beyond recurrent somatic mutations, and it renders the benefits of liquid biopsy more readily accessible for childhood cancers.

Click on a Dataset ID in the table below to learn more, and to find out who to contact about access to these data

Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001007080 Illumina NovaSeq 6000 unspecified 346
Publications Citations
Multimodal analysis of cell-free DNA whole-genome sequencing for pediatric cancers with low mutational burden.
Nat Commun 12: 2021 3230
LIQUORICE: detection of epigenetic signatures in liquid biopsies based on whole-genome sequencing data.
Bioinform Adv 2: 2022 vbac017