Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Floating Within

The Chinese University of Hong Kong's Dennis Lo is working on adapting cell-free DNA approaches to spot cancer, Technology Review's Antonio Regalado writes.

Lo developed non-invasive prenatal diagnostic testing for Down syndrome based on isolating fetal DNA circulating in a pregnant woman's blood, and he says it's similarly possible to uncover tumor DNA in a patient's blood.

"It took 13 years to develop the prenatal tests, but the path was untrodden," Lo says. “Cancer will take a shorter time.”

He and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Regalado says, have already been able to show that this strategy can work, though it is expensive. Part of the issue, he adds, is that tumor DNA comprises a sliver of the DNA isolated from a patient's blood sample.

Some researchers note that the test would be susceptible to false positives, like many screening tests. "Although the approach used by Dr. Lo is an excellent application of this technology, it would have the same hurdle to overcome,” Hopkins' Victor Velculescu, says.

Lo is also working on another method based on methylation changes to bring the cost down, Regalado notes.