Next generation sequencing techniques in liquid biopsy: focus on non-small cell lung cancer patients

Umberto Malapelle, Pasquale Pisapia, Danilo Rocco, Riccardo Smeraglio, Maria di Spirito, Claudio Bellevicine, Giancarlo Troncone

Abstract

The advent of genomic based personalized medicine has led to multiple advances in the molecular characterization of many tumor types, such as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). NSCLC is diagnosed in most cases on small tissue samples that may be not always sufficient for EGFR mutational assessment to select patients for first and second generations’ tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) therapy. In patients without tissue availability at presentation, the analysis of cell free DNA (cfDNA) derived from liquid biopsy samples, in particular from plasma, represent an established alternative to provide EGFR mutational testing for treatment decision making. In addition, a new paradigm for TKIs resistance management was recently approved by Food and Drug Administration, supporting the liquid biopsy based genotyping prior to tissue based genotyping for the detection of T790M mutation to select patients for third generation TKIs. In these settings, real time PCR (RT-PCR) and digital PCR ’targeted’ methods, which detect known mutations by specific probes, have extensively been adopted. Taking into account the restricted reference range and the limited multiplexing power of these targeted methods, the performance of liquid biopsy analyses may be further improved by next generation sequencing (NGS). While most tissue based NGS genotyping is well established, liquid biopsy NGS application is challenging, requiring a careful validation of the whole process, from blood collection to variant calling. Here we review this evolving field, highlighting those methodological points that are crucial to accurately select NSCLC patients for TKIs treatment administration by NGS on cfDNA.