How astronomy could help beat cancer

22 February 2013

Techniques originally developed to spot distant galaxies are being used by researchers to find new ways of analysing cancer tumours.

Teams at Cancer Research UK and Cambridge University have adapted a computer programme used for picking out indistinct objects in the night sky to assess the aggressiveness of breast tumours.

The new approach has led to an automated checking system for analysing tumour samples which could one day replace the traditional – and time-consuming - practice of pathologists looking down a microscope.

In the study, researchers used the computer system to identify biomarkers linked to more aggressive cancers across more than 2,000 tumour samples. The results suggested it was as effective as the manual approach, and faster.

Dr Raza Ali, who led the study, 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."

Researchers now plan a larger international study involving samples from more than 20,000 cancer patients to try and develop the new system.

The research was published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Posted by Edward Bartel

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