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Researcher Kristi Egland on Survival, Inspiration, and the Test That Could Revolutionize Breast Cancer Care

Aug 28, 2018 06:00AM ● By Alyssa McGinnis

By MED Staff

Sanford Health and medical technology company Inanovate have launched a clinical trial to confirm the accuracy of a breast cancer blood test developed by Sanford researcher and breast cancer survivor Kristi Egland, PhD.

Dr. Egland had been studying breast cancer for years when she received her own diagnosis. She says it was that diagnosis that drove her to develop the new test.

“While you are being treated, you are comforted by the fact that you’re doing something,” she says. “But after treatment was done, I kept saying to my oncologist, ‘Am I cured?’ My fear is always, do I have a recurrence? Because you rarely die of a primary tumor. The problem is when breast cancer metastasizes.”

Frustrated by the lack of a reliable way to monitor for recurrence beyond periodic exams and liver function tests, Egland got to work on a tool that could detect metastatic cancer even before symptoms appeared.

“I was thinking, I want to be able to make a test that can monitor patients during treatment and after that would hopefully be sensitive enough to detect recurrence,” says Dr. Egland. “That could give us a shot at curing more patients.”

Egland’s test, announced this summer, is based on antibodies in the blood of breast cancer patients which recognize seven different proteins associated with a tumor. If these proteins were manufactured in the lab, Egland reasoned that they could then be used as the basis of a test for these specific antibodies.

“After breast cancer, you become part of a sort of sorority of survivors,” says Egland. “You see the same people at races, events, and in clinic. Some of them moved on with their lives. Others have recurred. And I would always ask them ‘How did you know you had recurred?’”

The biomarkers Egland linked with breast cancer have been licensed to Inanovate which will use its patented biomarker analysis platform to analyze the blood draw.

“Inanovate is exciting because it was like they had the iPad and I had the app,” says Egland. “I still remember when they first explained their technology to me and I thought, ‘This is perfect!’”

The newly-launched 2-year clinical trial of the assay is being funded by an NIH grant and will include 1,250 women at sites in Fargo, Bismarck, Sioux Falls, and Bemidji, Minnesota. If the accuracy of the test is confirmed, it could potentially be used to not only detect recurrent breast cancer before symptoms appear, but it could also be used alongside mammography to improve the accuracy of diagnosis.

“My goal is to convince myself that it is good data and it is real,” says Dr. Egland. “This is going to be a huge breakthrough.”