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News digest – cancer blood test, urine nanoparticles, COVID-19 testing and 3D printing brains

by Alex Lathbridge | Analysis

4 April 2020

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blood samples

New blood test that can ‘detect 50 types of cancer’ hits the headlines 

Scientists are using artificial intelligence to help identify if someone has cancer based on DNA “tags” in the blood. We’ve previously blogged about the search for a blood test to detect cancer early and although this new development has generated a lot of buzz, it’s not quite ready for patients just yet. Find out more on our blog. 

The Francis Crick Institute joins the COVID-19 testing effort 

In the last 14 days, The Francis Crick Institute in London has been converted into COVID-19 samples for patients and NHS staff. As reported in The Guardian, the Crick – of which Cancer Research UK is a major funder – is making use of their scientists and robots to turn tests around quickly. Read our blog post to find out more.

Scientists use nanoparticles to detect lung cancer in mouse urine 

Scientists in the US are exploiting a quirk of cancer biology to try and detect lung cancer earlier. One of the key tools that cancer cells use to spread is a type of enzyme called proteases, which allow cells to move from their original location by slicing through surrounding proteins. Scientists at MIT have developed nanoparticles that are drawn to these enzymes, releasing chemicals that can then be detected in urine. New Atlas covered the latest results, which showed the test could pick up tumours in mice by examining their urine as early as 5 weeks after they begin to grow. It’s an interesting approach, but it’s a long way off being ready to test in humans. We’ve blogged before about research looking to pick up cancer in urine. 

And finally 

Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that grows in the brain and its location makes it difficult to study. But researchers at Northeastern University may have found a solution: 3D printed brains. They’ve shown it’s possible to build a 3D model of the brain, complete with different types of brain cells and blood vessels, using layers of hydrogel. They’re using the model to study the effects of different treatments. The Week and News@Northeastern has more.