New DNA Test Detects Cancer Before It Happens

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KALUGA REGION, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21, 2018: A worker in a lab at Nearmedic Pharma's integrated works manufacturing reagents for forensic DNA fingerprinting and relationship testing at the Obninsk industrial park. The new products are to be used for forensic DNA fingerprinting in criminal investigations and DNA paternity testing, as well as in medical and genealogical research. In Russia, the major consumers of DNA analysis reagents are the Interior Ministry, the Investigative Committee, the Healthcare Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Defence Ministry, and forensic laboratories. Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS (Photo by Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

A new test can quickly detect potentially cancer-causing DNA damage.

The detection of DNA damage in cells can predict whether cancer will develop, but tests for this kind of damage has limited sensitivity.

Currently, tests for the cancer-causing potential of chemicals involve exposing mice to the chemical and then waiting to see whether they develop cancer, which takes about two years.

But a team of MIT biological engineers has now come up with a new screening method that they believe could make such testing much faster, easier, and more accurate.

The National Toxicology Program, a government research agency that identifies potentially hazardous substances is now working on adopting the MIT test to evaluate new compounds.

The lab is working on further validating the test, which makes use of human liver-like cells that metabolise chemicals very similarly to real human liver cells and produce a distinctive signal when DNA damage occurs.

The study is published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research. They are working on improving one of the devices, the CometChip, which detects breaks in DNA, as well as DNA damage that is readily converted into breaks, it can’t pick up another type of damage known as a bulky lesion.

These lesions form when chemicals stick to a strand of DNA and distort the double helix structure, interfering with gene expression and cell division.

Chemicals that cause this kind of damage include aflatoxin, which is produced by fungi and can contaminate peanuts and other crops, and benzo[a]pyrene, which can form when food is cooked at high temperatures.

Engelward and her students decided to try to adapt the CometChip so that it could pick up this type of DNA damage. To do that, they took advantage of cells’ DNA repair pathways to generate strand breaks. Typically, when a cell discovers a bulky lesion

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