New blood test could be the ‘holy grail of cancer research’

Vanessa Hillary

Scientist have developed a simple blood test that could detect ten types of cancer years before sufferers fall ill. Experts note that there is still a lot to be done to create a system of universal screening that could help save lives, but say the new tests are a step in the right direction because many cancers are detected too late for surgery or adequate treatments.

Klein and his research team (Stanford University) have conducted a study, in which they found that the test could detect pancreatic, ovarian, liver, and gallbladder cancers. Scientists at Grail, a USA company funded by Mr Gates and Mr Bezos, have set their sights on identifying a range of cancers from a...

The cancer sites that were examined in the study did not include brain, but the study does suggest that scientific progress has been made across many different types of cancers and there is the potential to include this test as part of a routine medical screening. One of the issues is the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain.

The number of patients in whom cancers were detected was small. A number of different blood tests are also now used to check out things like blood cell count, liver and kidney function, and the presence of substances produced by tumors.

However, most of the patients find out they have cancer when they start showing signs. Findings of the study are scheduled to be disclosed during the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ACSO) meeting this weekend, in Chicago.

The test's high sensitivity to pancreatic cancer is especially promising.

However, it was less effective at detecting stomach, uterine and early-stage prostate cancer, the authors said.

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The new test has three parts, testing the whole genome for DNA fragments first, then searching for specific genetic mutations and finally DNA methylation - a process which changes the way genes work when someone has cancer.

‘The goal is to develop a blood test, such as this one, that can accurately identify cancers in their earliest stages.

"Most cancers are detected at a late stage, but this "liquid biopsy" gives us the opportunity to find them months or years before someone would develop symptoms and be diagnosed", he continued.

Nicholas Turner from London's Institute of Cancer Research said, via The Guardian.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, also welcomed the findings.

"In particular, new techniques for precision early diagnosis would unlock enormous survival gains, as well as dramatic productivity benefits in the practice of medicine".

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