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Tracking Cancer

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Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have discovered something that may lead to earlier detection of cancer, reports Technology Review's Emily Singer — long stretches of repetitive RNA, called satellites, that are unique to cancer cells and that appear early in its development. David Ting, one of the researchers involved in the project, discovered the markers by accident while studying RNA from tumor cells, Singer says. Ting found RNA molecules that didn't correspond to any genes, and saw that they corresponded instead to stretches of DNA that were transcribed to RNA, but never made into any proteins. "Follow-up testing in both mouse and human cancer tissue revealed high levels of satellites in different types of tumors, including lung, kidney, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers," Singer says. Researchers don't yet know whether the satellites have a role in the formation of cancer, but at the very least they could end up providing a new biomarker for cancer diagnosis, she adds.

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