Star-gazing software helps fight breast cancer

Updated 20 February 2013
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Star-gazing software helps fight breast cancer

IN an unlikely tie-up, astronomers and cancer researchers have joined forces to study breast tumors using image analysis software originally developed to explore the distant stars.
The automated system offers a speedy way to test if tumors are aggressive and may mean pathologists one day no longer have to peer down a microscope to spot subtle differences in tissue samples.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge said yesterday that astronomical algorithms, or problem-solving procedures, adapted to biology had proved much faster and just as accurate as traditional tumor analysis procedures.
Astronomers have long used sophisticated computer systems to help pick out indistinct objects in the night sky, and the software used by the Cambridge team first developed to help spot planets that might harbor life outside our solar system.
But such star-gazing skills have gone largely unnoticed in biomedical field, at least until now.
“In shows that we don’t cross-communicate as much as we ought to,” said lead researcher Raza Ali, a pathologist from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute.
Ali and colleagues studied just over 2,000 tumor samples and found the astronomical algorithm system could process them in a day, compared to the week they would have taken to analyze manually.
They now plan a larger international study involving samples from more than 20,000 breast cancer patients to refine the approach.
Studying tumor samples is a key part of breast cancer treatment since differences can show whether or not a tumor expresses a certain protein. A “positive” result means a patient may be suitable for a targeted drug like Roche’s Herceptin.
Some diagnostics companies are already looking at other ways to automate the analysis of tumor samples but Ali said this was the first example of exploiting know-how adapted from astronomy.
The team of Cambridge cancer researchers and astronomers, who published their findings in the British Journal of Cancer, have placed all their algorithms and images in the public domain in the hope of encouraging further collaboration.


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.