Sizing Up Cancer in Cell-Free DNA


During cell death, DNA that is not contained within a membrane (i.e., cell-free DNA) enters the circulation. Detecting cell-free DNA originating from solid tumors (i.e., circulating tumor DNA, ctDNA), particularly solid tumors that have not metastasized, has proven challenging due to the relatively abundant background of normally occurring cell-free DNA derived from healthy cells. This presentation will discuss the recent discovery that circulating tumor DNA has a distinctly shorter fragment length than normal cell-free DNA derived from healthy cells. The leveraging of this biological phenomenon to improve the non-invasive detection and diagnosis of solid tumors (i.e., the "liquid biopsy"), monitoring tumor recurrence, and evaluating tumor response to therapy will also be considered.

Originally presented on December 16, 2016, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Lecture Presenter

Hunter Underhill, MD, PhD

Hunter Underhill, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Medical Genetics
University of Utah School of Medicine
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Radiology
University of Utah School of Medicine

Dr. Underhill has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and an MD from Wake Forest University. After completing a surgical internship and two years of training in neurosurgery, he entered graduate school and obtained a PhD in bioengineering from the University of Washington. He then completed a residency in medical genetics followed by a post-doc in tumor biology at the University of Washington. He subsequently completed a fellowship in clinical biochemical genetics at the University of Utah. Dr. Underhill is currently an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of the Utah in the Division of Medical Genetics. His research focuses on the integration of molecular-based genotyping strategies with magnetic resonance imaging for phenotyping to explore relationships between changes in DNA and tumor behavior and to broaden the understanding of mutational effects on brain structure and development.


After this presentation, participants will be able to:

  • Understand the origin and characteristics of cell-free DNA in the circulation.
  • Understand challenges associated with detecting circulating tumor DNA and various approaches to improve sensitivity.

Sponsored by:

University of Utah School of Medicine, Department of Pathology, and ARUP Laboratories