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University of Toronto professor develops new ultra-sensitive blood test

One of the biggest keys to preventing or treating cancer effectively is rapid detection and diagnosis; for the two of four Canadians that will have cancer in their lifetime, detecting it early can mean the difference between life and death.

Dr. Shana Kelley, a professor from the University of Toronto’s faculty of pharmacy, has discovered a tool to make diagnosis easier. Currently, doctors employ surgical procedures to extract samples from tumors that are then tested to determine the type of cancer a patient has, a process process that is both invasive and time consuming.

In contrast, Kelley has developed an extremely sensitive blood test that uses sensors on a chip to detect cancer mutations. “Dr. Kelley’s new blood test using microchips to detect cancer mutations has the potential to transform cancer screening. Finding cancer before symptoms are noticed greatly increases the chances of successful treatment.” said Dr. Katie Wright, Senior Manager of Research Communications, Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division.

The development is based on recent research that show that significant levels of cell-free nucleic acids (cfNAs) are present in the blood of cancer patients, and contain the potential to reveal the mutational spectrum of a tumor without the need for an invasive sampling of the tumor. Currently, conventional means of using these samples requires differentiation between the nucleic acids that originate from healthy cells and the mutated sequences shed by tumor cells, which can take time and is often complicated by excessive handling.

With Kelley’s chip-based technology, the test would not require sample purification, and would be capable of detecting the presence of mutations within 15 minutes. The same day that she published her findings in Nature Chemistry, Xagenic Inc., a molecular diagnostics company developing the lab-free Xagenic X1 platform, announced the exclusive acquisition of this technology.
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