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A saliva or blood sample could one day be used to detect cancer



Researchers in Sweden have developed a method for determining and interpreting changes in sugar molecules in cancer cells. Although their work is still in progress, this discovery could one day enable the detection of cancer by a mere sample of saliva or blood.

Scientists around the world are investigating ways to diagnose all forms of cancer as early as possible to improve treatment and, consequently, chances of recovery. A team of researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, could potentially be on the right track thanks to a discovery that could, within several years, lead to the development of an effective and reliable analysis method for detecting cancer using a blood or saliva sample.

The researchers focused on glycans, which are, in the words of the scientists, “a type of sugar molecule structures that is linked to the proteins in our cells”.

They point out that changes in the structure of glycans can induce inflammation or disease. The scientists set out to develop a method of distinguishing different types of structural changes, with the aim of precisely detecting a particular disease.

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What the research found

“We have analysed data from about 220 patients with 11 differently diagnosed cancers and have identified differences in the substructure of the glycan depending on the type of cancer. By letting our newly developed method, enhanced by AI, work through large amounts of data, we were able to find these connections,” says Daniel Bojar, associate senior lecturer in bioinformatics at the University of Gothenburg and lead author of the study, quoted in a news release.

Published in the journal Cell Reports Methods, the research reports that the team has now invested in a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer, an instrument used for chemical or biological analysis. This will serve as an artificial intelligence platform to improve precision and reliability in the search for biomarkers in glycan substructures, all designed to identify what’s wrong – and potentially help diagnose cancer.

“We can rely on our results; they are statistically significant. If we know what we are looking for, it is easier to find the correct result. Now we will take these biomarkers and develop test methods,” says Daniel Bojar.

“We want to develop a reliable and rapid analytical method to detect cancer, and also the type of cancer, through a blood sample or saliva. I think we might be able to perform clinical tests on human samples in 4-5 years.”

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