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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2019 May;28(5):909-916. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-18-0586. Epub 2019 Mar 1.

A Study of Pre-Analytical Variables and Optimization of Extraction Method for Circulating Tumor DNA Measurements by Digital Droplet PCR.

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Department of Oncology, Lady Davis Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Surgery, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, Mcgill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
McGill University and Genome Quebec Innovation Center, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Department of Oncology, Lady Davis Institute, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



Circulating free DNA (cfDNA) is an exciting novel method to diagnose, monitor, and predict resistance and response to cancer therapies, with the potential to radically alter the management of cancer patients. To fulfill its potential, greater knowledge about preanalytical variables is required to optimize and standardize the collection process, and maximize the yield and utility of the small quantities of cfDNA extracted.


To this end, we have compared the cfDNA extraction efficiency of three different protocols, including a protocol developed in house (Jewish General Hospital). We evaluated the impact on cfDNA levels of preanalytical variables including speed and timing of the second centrifugation and the use of k-EDTA and CTAD blood collection tubes. Finally, we analyzed the impact on fractional abundance of targeted pre-amplification and whole genome amplification on tumor and circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) from patients with breast cancer.


Making use of a novel protocol for cfDNA extraction we increased cfDNA quantities, up to double that of commercial kits. We found that a second centrifugation at 3,000 g on frozen plasma is as efficient as a high-speed (16,000 g) centrifugation on fresh plasma and does not affect cfDNA levels.


These results allow for the implementation of protocols more suitable to the clinical setting. Finally, we found that, unlike targeted gene amplification, whole genome amplification resulted in altered fractional abundance of selected ctDNA variants.


Our study of the preanalytical variables affecting cfDNA recovery and testing will significantly enhance the quality and application of ctDNA testing in clinical oncology.

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