This Computer Program Detects Cancer Earlier Than Ever


Image: MOTHERBOARD
CancerLocator could be used to pinpoint tumor locations even before symptoms arise, eliminating painful biopsies and increasing patient survival

By Knvul Sheikh | MOTHERBOARD

Cancer is often found when someone starts to feel symptoms—pain, an abnormal growth, or maybe just fatigue. Now scientists have developed a computer program that could identify and locate cancer even before symptoms arise, opening the door for earlier screening and better treatment.

The program, called CancerLocator, detects tumor DNA in patient blood samples, and precisely pinpoints where the tumor is located in the body. In a small pilot study, it successfully diagnosed liver, lung, and breast cancer in 80 percent of cases, giving researchers hope that the program could eventually be used as part of regular health checks, eliminating the need for invasive biopsies.

Developed by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California, CancerLocator works by analyzing DNA that escapes into the bloodstream when cells die. Each fragment of DNA has a unique pattern of chemical add-ons, called methyl groups, that mark which genes were turned on or off. These methyl markers can indicate whether a gene was interrupted in a cancerous cell. And because different cells and tissues have different genes that are activated in the body, the methylation patterns can also act as a blueprint for where the DNA comes from.

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