Detecting Cancer In Its Infancy

Detecting Cancer In Its Infancy

Detecting Cancer In Its Infancy
TGEN’S CENTER FOR NON INVASIVE DIAGNOSTICS uses advanced genomic analysis to pursue safer, more accurate and faster ways of diagnosing disease. Center Co-Directors Drs. Muhammed Murtaza and Kendall Van Keuren-Jensen describe how the center’s techniques work.

What is unique about TGen’s Center for Noninvasive Diagnostics?
Imagine diagnosing an otherwise hidden cancer with a simple blood test: no exploratory surgery or needle biopsy necessary. Imagine finding the earliest signs of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease in a small amount of blood. Recent studies have shown that free-floating DNA, known as circulating DNA, and extracellular RNA (believed to play a role in cell regulation), exist in body fluids such as blood, urine, saliva and cerebral spinal fluid. Developing a method to noninvasively study this molecular material would provide safer medical testing procedures and potentially more accurate diagnoses, leading to medical treatments that are “more precise,” according to each patient’s condition. If successful, doctors could address these conditions years, even decades, before more serious symptoms occur.

How will noninvasive diagnostics change how disease is fought?
By sampling and sequencing circulating DNA and extracellular RNA, doctors and scientists hope to discover methods that could detect cancer and other diseases in their earliest stages. For cancer patients, researchers believe the analysis will also help guide treatment decisions and increase a patient’s chances for an improved outcome. In neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, identifying patients in the early stages of disease would lend itself to clinical trials of new treatments and prevention therapies.

What is DNA and what does it do?
DNA exists in the nucleus of all living cells. Its structure is like that of a twisted ladder, with two “backbones” holding an array of chemical “steps” in between. The chemicals in DNA contain recipes that create the proteins needed for the processes of life. TGen specializes in sequencing DNA, spelling out — in order — all of the nearly 3 billion base-pair nucleotides that make up the building blocks of life.

What is RNA?
Like DNA, nucleic acids comprise RNA as well. Unlike DNA, however, which contains two inter-coiled strands; RNA has only a single strand. RNA is a functional copy of DNA that can have many regulatory roles in a cell. RNA can create proteins, regulate the levels of other RNAs and proteins, or have structural capabilities.

How can DNA and RNA detect and inform about disease?
If one or more of the chemical sequences in DNA or RNA read abnormally, a genetic disease or medical condition may be present. In a cancer, errors in the DNA sequence can drive abnormal growth of cancer cells and enable them to evade treatment. Differences in the levels of RNA can also indicate that an abnormal process is occurring.

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Dr. Jeffrey Trent and Dr. Muhammad Murtaza of TGen discuss the significance of liquid biopsies in the diagnoses and management of life-threatening diseases.

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