Most people, when asked which disease they’d eradicate if they could would probably say cancer. It is responsible for about 500 deaths every day in the UK alone. This equates to more than one in four of all deaths in the UK. It is often difficult to diagnose but if caught early enough can be relatively easily treated.
I read an article yesterday proposing a new technique for diagnosing cancer that also allows medical experts to identify where in the body the cancerous tumour is located. At the University of South California, researchers have developed a new technology named CancerLocator. It works by analysing a sample of a patient’s blood-specifically the DNA-from the tumour circulating freely in the blood. When cells die, pieces of DNA are released into the bloodstream.
Certain genes are expressed to different extents in cells depending on the tissue they are located. Using methylation profiling (looking at the methyl groups attached to the tumour DNA) we can see to what extent genes in the cells were expressed. Through the same method, CancerLocator can distinguish between genes affected by cancerous cells and those that have not. Statistical analysis of the methylation profiles can give specific ‘signatures’ of different cancers.
A methylation profile central database is then used to match up the signatures with the location of the cancerous tissue. Statistical models can be made up to deduce the type and severity of the tumour.
CancerLocator has shown that it can detect early-stage cancers with a success rate of 80% compared to about 40% of two other techniques that have previously been used. It was tested on patients with liver, lung and breast cancer.
CancerLocator, in years to come, could hopefully facilitate quicker diagnoses and help medical professionals in treating the disease. Another step forward has seemingly been taken in our fight against cancer.