In this episode of The Onco’Zine Brief Peter Hofland, Ph.D., talks with Tim Blauwkamp, Ph.D., Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of Karius.

Karius, based in Redwood City, CA, has developed a non-invasive liquid biopsy, a blood test, called the Karius Test®. The test is based on next-generation sequencing of microbial cell-free DNA and can rapidly detect pathogens causing serious infections, including those diseases that are difficult to diagnose through conventional methods. The test can identify and quantify over 1,000 clinically relevant pathogens, including bacteria, DNA viruses, fungi, and parasites. The test can be used to identify infections related to complicated and atypical pneumonia, infections in immunocompromised patients including invasive fungal infections, viral infections and neutropenic fever, and endocarditis and other cardiovascular infections.

In the right patient population, the test is faster than conventional culture-based diagnostics and eliminates traditional diagnostic methods for deep-tissue infections, which may require a diagnostic surgical procedure.

But overall, the test helps clinicians make rapid, treatment decisions.

And this is especially important for infectious disease diagnostics in immunocompromised patients, including patients with cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, about 650,000 cancer patients receive chemotherapy in an outpatient oncology clinic in the United States. And while chemotherapy is important for the treatment of cancer and hematological malignancies, it may also lead to a condition known as neutropenia, a dramatic reduction of white blood cells.

These cells, called leukocytes, include B-cells, T-cells, and NK- or natural killer – cells. They are designed to help fight infections. But when their numbers are reduced by cancer therapy, infections may develop easier and are harder to control.

Infections may make treating cancer more complicated.

When infections develop, the medical team needs to eradicate the infection before they can start another cycle of chemotherapy or radiation therapy or perform any surgical procedures. Preventing or eradicating infection is vital to continuing a patient’s cancer-targeted therapy. A complicating factor is that the medical team must also be on the lookout for side effects caused by the medications they use to treat the infection in patients who are already dealing with side effects related to their cancer therapy.

Without a doubt, patients receiving chemotherapy are at a higher risk of developing infections. In turn, these infections may lead to hospitalization, disruptions in chemotherapy schedules, and even death.

The CDC estimates that about 60,000 cancer patients are hospitalized with infections every year in the United States. In fact, infections remain a primary cause of severe morbidity and mortality in immunocompromised patients. In some cases, even more so than the morbidity caused by cancer itself.

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