Experimental Cancer Pathology

Dr. Kim Smits

The aim of this research, embedded in the group of Prof. Manon van Engeland, is to identify, validate and implement epigenetic biomarkers for the early detection, prognosis and surveillance of colorectal and renal cancer. The focus is both on tissue biomarkers and liquid biopsies, as well as on improving research methodology for biomarker development.

Ever since the first cancer biomarker study was published somewhere in the late 1950’s, biomarker research has been thriving growing from 3,698 published Pubmed papers in 1990 to 24,972 papers in 2015. Although the promise of cancer biomarker research was immense, after decades of research, scientists have to admit that these biomarkers have not met their potential yet. The translation from bench to bedside for a cancer biomarker encounters many problems on many different levels and moments, and many studies have been published describing these problems and their possible solutions. Along this line, several guidelines and recommendations have been published in an attempt to structure current biomarker research and improve performance or reporting of this type of research. However, despite all these efforts, very few biomarkers have made their way into patient care at the moment and most markers never make it beyond the laboratory bench due to lack of validation, troubled study or assay designs and consequently an insufficient Level of Evidence.

In the search for clinically useful biomarkers some biomarker types gained more attention as others, but lately the focus has shifted towards biomarkers that can be obtained through minimally invasive procedures. Liquid biopsies have been suggested to be especially promising due to their minimally invasive and easy collection methods. In addition, they are thought to better reflect tumor heterogeneity as compared to biopsies.