New blood test aims for universal cancer detection

The tools we currently have to detect cancer, such as colonoscopies and biopsies, are expensive, invasive and painful. So a team of researchers led by Diana Anderson, professor of biomedical science at the University of Bradford’s School of Life Sciences in Yorkshire, is developing a universal blood test that can detect a range of cancers.

The blood test is performed by subjecting a sample of a patient’s white blood cells to ultraviolet (UV) light, which damages the cells’ DNA. White blood cells act as the body’s natural defence system, and become extremely stressed when fighting cancer. So the idea behind the blood test was to put white blood cells under even more stress using UV light to differentiate them from the white blood cells of healthy people.

The team found that the DNA of people with cancer was more easily damaged by the UV light than those who were cancer-free. And according to Dominic Hughes at BBC News, “Those patients with pre-cancerous conditions showed an intermediate level of damage.”

Their findings will be published in the FASEB Journal.

“These are early results completed on three different types of cancer and we accept that more research needs to be done; but these results so far are remarkable,” Anderson told Hughes at BBC News.

While it’s a promising idea that could well form the basis of a universal blood test of the future, independent experts agree that more work needs to be done before we can call this particular test a success. Anthea Martin, the science information manager at Cancer Research UK, told the BBC, “Although this small study is interesting, there are still a lot of unanswered questions about this test and much bigger studies are needed to prove whether it could be useful for diagnosing cancer on a wider scale.”

Professor of cancer genetics at St George’s, University of London, Shirley Hodgson, also stressed the importance of more testing, adding, “A much bigger experiment, including better-controlled groups of patients, is needed before we can determine how useful the test could be in cancer diagnosis.”

Learn more here

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