Many people don’t find out they have cancer until after their very first symptom has appeared, whether it be a hard lump they found under their armpit or a change in their appetites. But, what if it were possible that through the use of certain technologies, we could detect cancer earlier and, perhaps, even start treatment before it has gotten to a point where cancer has spread throughout the body? At the moment, numerous biomedical research firms are racing to find new methods to screen cancer cells before the disease has had a chance to wreak havoc on the host’s body and potentially stop or slow the growth.
One such firm, Thrive, founded in April 2019, has been developing a liquid biopsy test. The test, called cancerSEEK, analyzes a donor’s blood sample for certain genetic mutations with a focus on 16 specific genes in hopes of being able to detect at least eight different types of cancer. At the moment, the company is conducting a study on 10,000 participants and aiming to have their product approved and ready for commercial use in the future.
Another research firm has found that their test may be able to predict cancer four years before it appears. Using a test called PanSeer, these researchers focused on a process known as methylation.
In chemistry, methylation is when one single carbon and three hydrogen atoms combine with some other molecule. In layman’s terms, methylation is vital in a person’s body because it controls such things as a person’s immune response, or how well they can fight off infections, the fight or flight response, and energy production. It is well-known that abnormal methylation can be the very first sign of certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer.
How the PanSeer test works is it isolates DNA from a donor’s blood sample, and it then measures this methylation at 500 various sites known for being most promising in detecting the disease. After this, results are sent to a computer where a mathematical algorithm determines whether or not a person will develop cancer. This particular test had a 90% accuracy rate following a control group of about 191 participants. Researchers working on PanSeer say more research is needed, but with the overall success they have found with their studies thus far, things are looking promising.
The last fascinating and innovative technology to enter the field of early detection of cancer is the use of AI or artificial intelligence technologies. A company based out of South Korea, Lunit, is leading the race into this.
Using an algorithm called INSIGHT, the AI provides a closer look into chest x-rays and mammogram scans to see what the older technologies could not. How it works is the algorithm focuses on one particular region in the chest where it then must find any abnormalities such as a lump. The machine is left to learn by itself, and overall, it seems to be about 97% successful in being able to diagnose both breast and lung cancers.
With the use of liquid biopsies, methylation measurement, and the rise of AI, the future of early cancer screening tools looks quite promising, and perhaps one day, we will be just that much closer to finding the cure for cancer.