Toward Personalised Liquid Biopsies for Urothelial Carcinoma: Characterisation of ddPCR and Urinary cfDNA for the Detection of the TERT 228 G>A/T Mutation

Ilaria J. Russo, Yongwon Ju, Naheema S. Gordon, Maurice P. Zeegers, K. K. Cheng, Nicholas D. James, Richard T. Bryan, Douglas G. Ward*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: TERT promotor mutations are present in >75% of bladder tumours; these mutations are also detectable in urine. Previous studies have used urinary pellet DNA, and semi-quantitative methods unsuitable for detecting very low mutant allele frequencies. Objective: In this proof-of-principle study we use ddPCR to count the DNA molecules with wt and mutant TERT sequences in urinary cfDNA from patients whose bladder cancers harbour TERT mutations. Methods: Urinary cfDNA prepared from the urine from 104 bladder cancer patients was analysed. We determined the mutant allele frequency across stages and grades of disease, analysed concordance between cfDNA and tumour DNA, compared cfDNA with pellet DNA, and analysed the quantity and size distribution of cfDNA. Results: In 71 of 77 patients with a 228 G>A/T mutant tumour, the mutation was also detected in urinary cfDNA by ddPCR; all 6 "false negatives" were low grade pTa tumours. Overall concordance between tissue and cfDNA mutation status was 92%, and 100% was achieved for high grade disease. Median mutant allele frequencies in urinary cfDNA were 3.4, 13.4 and 32.1% in grade 1, 2 and 3 disease. The 228 G>A/T mutation was not detected in urinary cfDNA in 26 out of 27 mutation-negative patients (96% specificity). Conclusions: Concordance between tumour DNA and urinary cfDNA is high, and TERT 228 G>A/T ddPCR may prove useful for monitoring patients that harbour this mutation. Mutant allele frequencies in cfDNA are often high, but assays capable of detecting very low mutant allele frequencies will be required to achieve high sensitivity in low grade disease.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-48
Number of pages8
JournalBladder Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2018


  • Bladder cancer
  • urine
  • cfDNA
  • TERT
  • ddPCR
  • biomarker
  • FGFR3

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