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DNA “packaging” test can detect multiple cancers

Friday 31st May 2019
Researchers have designed a new test that can identify multiple cancer types by using DNA “packaging” patterns.
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A new test has been developed that can detect multiple types of cancer from a simple blood sample. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have developed a different method to the ones currently used, relying on a new DNA “packaging” technique that doesn’t require tumours to have mutated.

The DNA evaluation of fragments for early interception (DELFI) test works by analysing cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in a patient’s bloodstream. Normally, DNA is packaged in the nucleus of a healthy cell in an organised manner. However, in cancer cells it is disorganised, and is released into the bloodstream in what study lead author Dr Alessandro Leal called “a chaotic manner”.

DELFI detect abnormalities in the size and amount of DNA, based on how it’s packaged. This enables the test to identify the presence of cancer quickly and easily. Current cancer tests work by detecting mutations or methylation - a chemical reaction in which a methyl group is added to DNA - which don’t always occur.

A study of the DELFI test, in which blood samples were taken from 208 cancer patients and 215 healthy individuals, found that it can accurately detect cancer DNA between 57 per cent and 99 per cent of the time, depending on the type of cancer. It was tested on breast, colorectal, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, gastric and bile duct cancers.

Furthermore, in the 215 healthy blood samples, a false positive was only detected in four cases, equating to an error rate of just 1.86 per cent. By using machine learning, the researchers believe the test could be upgraded to identify cancers and their tissue of origin in up to 75 per cent of cases.

Dr Victor Velculescu, senior study author, said: “We’re encouraged about the potential of DELFI because it looks at a completely independent set of cell-free DNA characteristics from those that have posed difficulties over the years, and we look forward to working with our collaborators worldwide to make this test available to patients.”

Written by Martin Lambert

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