Locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC) has traditionally been treated with trimodality therapy consisting of neoadjuvant radiation +/- chemotherapy, surgery, and adjuvant chemotherapy. There is currently a clinical need for biomarkers to predict treatment response and outcomes, especially during neoadjuvant therapy. Liquid biopsies in the form of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) and circulating nucleic acids in particular microRNAs (miRNA) are novel, the latter also being highly stable and clinically relevant regulators of disease. We studied a prospective cohort of 52 patients with LARC, and obtained samples at baseline, during treatment, and post-treatment. We enumerated CTCs during chemoradiation at these three time-points, using the IsofluxTM (Fluxion Biosciences Inc., Alameda, CA, USA) CTC Isolation and detection platform. We then subjected the isolated CTCs to miRNA expression analyses, using a panel of 106 miRNA candidates. We identified CTCs in 73% of patients at baseline; numbers fell and miRNA expression profiles also changed during treatment. Between baseline and during treatment (week 3) time-points, three microRNAs (hsa-miR-95, hsa-miR-10a, and hsa-miR-16-1*) were highly differentially expressed. Importantly, hsa-miR-19b-3p and hsa-miR-483-5p were found to correlate with good response to treatment. The latter (hsa-miR-483-5p) was also found to be differentially expressed between good responders and poor responders. These miRNAs represent potential predictive biomarkers, and thus a potential miRNA-based treatment strategy. In this study, we demonstrate that CTCs are present and can be isolated in the non-metastatic early-stage cancer setting, and their associated miRNA profiles can potentially be utilized to predict treatment response.
Keywords: chemoradiotherapy; circulating tumour cells; locally advanced rectal cancer; lymphocytes; microRNA; predictive biomarkers.