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Why scientists are trying to recreate the birth of cancer

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Researchers want to see the disease ‘on day one’ to aid early detection

One-Minute Read James Ashford
Monday, October 21, 2019 - 2:07pm

A group of British and American scientists plan to “give birth” to cancer in the lab in an effort to help beat the disease.

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The International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection will seek to create cancer to see what it looks like “on day one”.

The group hopes it will give them clues on early detection, meaning patients will benefit more quickly, says the BBC.

The expert unit will bring together six universities and charities from across the UK and the US to share ideas, knowledge and resources.

The Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, University College London, Stanford and Oregon will team up with Cancer Research UK to develop new tests that can spot previously undetectable signs of the disease.

But spotting these early signs can be like “looking for a needle in a haystack”, says Dr David Crosby, head of early detection research at Cancer Research UK, which will put £40m into the programme over the next five years.

“In a human being we never get to see a cancer being born,” said Crosby. “If you can essentially give birth to a cancer in a piece of synthetic human tissue in the lab, you can see what it is like on day one and hopefully be able to detect and intercept it.”

The group hopes to develop simple detection techniques based on blood, urine or even nasal swab samples. They also plan to build on complex imaging techniques like hyperpolarised MRI, which allows scientists to investigate how cancer cells generate energy, says The Guardian.

They will also look into why so many people miss screening appointments, and how new techniques can be made more accessible.

“With this alliance one of the things that we are very committed to is taking things all the way through from the bench to the bedside,” said professor Rebecca Fitzgerald of the University of Cambridge.

The researchers said they hoped to avoid the problems of over-diagnosis that some routine screening programmes have suffered from. Some patients have undergone unnecessary treatment as a result of non-problematic cancers being found during screenings.

The alliance says it will explore techniques that better distinguish dangerous cancers from harmless ones - for example, using MRI rather than biopsy.

It also plans to develop new ways of ide ntifying people at high risk of certain cancers, so they can be screened more frequently than those at low risk.

Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, Sara Hiom, said: “GPs need faster access to smarter tests, so that they only need to send people at the highest risk of cancer to hospital for further investigation.

“ACED will aim to fast-track development of these types of tests and get them into clinical practice as soon as it is safe to do so,” she added.

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