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To accurately and speedily identify deadly cancers, medical scientists are harnessing space technology. The technique, which helps locate distant galaxies, is now being modified to look for indistinct biomarkers, the first faint signs of aggressive tumours.
The spin-off could result in computers replacing the microscope to search for signs of deadly cancer, traditionally spotted by staining cells to show up specific proteins, the British Journal of Cancer reports. The new technique employs an automated system to pick out far away objects in the night sky. Scientists used it to measure three protein levels among tumour samples from more than 2,000 breast cancer patients. Surprisingly, researchers found that the automated system was at least as accurate as the manual one but many times faster, according to the Daily Mail.
Raza Ali, scientist from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: 'The results have been even better than we'd hoped, with our new automated approach performing with accuracy comparable to the time-consuming task of scoring images manually, after only relatively minor adjustments to the formula.'
'We're now planning a larger international study involving samples from more than 20,000 breast cancer patients to further refine our strategy,' Ali added. Co-author Carlos Caldas, also from the Cambridge Institute, said: 'Modern techniques are giving us some of the first insights into the key genes and proteins important in predicting the success or failure of different cancer treatments.'
Nicholas Walton, from Cambridge University's Institute of Astronomy, said: 'It's great that our image analysis software, which was originally developed to help track down planets harbouring life outside of our Solar System, is now also being used to help improve the outlook for cancer patients, much closer to home.'
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