Scientists design DNA test that can identify 18 cancers

Wednesday January 17 2024

A nurse draws blood from a patient during a diagnosis test. PHOTO | COURTESY


Scientists have developed a simple DNA test that can identify 18 early-stage cancers. 

The test developed by the team from the US biotech firm Novelna analyses proteins in the blood and can pick up 18 early-stage cancers, representing all main organs in the human body.

In the study, blood plasma samples were collected from 440 people diagnosed with 18 different types of cancer and from 44 healthy blood donors. 

The team then identified proteins which showed early-stage cancers and where they originated in the body “with high accuracy”. By looking at proteins in blood plasma, the experts were able to differentiate cancer samples from normal ones and even distinguish between different types of cancers “with high accuracy”, they said. 

Read: Robust cancer initiative rolled out in Africa

The research also found evidence that cancer protein signals were likely to be sex specific.


But even with this, the scientists insist that more studies need to be done. According to Dr Mangesh Thorat of the Centre for Cancer Prevention at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, who was not involved in the study, there remained questions about the test and more studies were needed.

Prof Paul Pharoah, a cancer epidemiology expert at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who was also not involved in the study, welcomed the findings but urged caution.

“Simple blood tests that can detect many different cancers in the early stages (test is sensitive) and do not generate false positives (test is specific) are a holy grail for early detection,” he said. 

Although there are specific blood proteins that could already be used for early detection and monitoring, there have been questions of accuracy until now, according to researchers.

Read: Kenya to roll out free cervical cancer vaccine

In Kenya, cancer is the third leading cause of death and thus a major public health concern. The Status of Cancer in Kenya Report 2022/2023 revealed that breast, cervical, prostate, esophagus and non-Hodgkins lymphoma are the five most prevalent cancers, accounting for nearly half (48 percent) of the cancer burden in the country.

According to the report, cervical and breast cancers, which are reproductive cancers affecting women, contribute to 23 percent of all cancer-related deaths in the country.