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Drop by Tiny Drop

New methods may be making it possible to diagnose diseases like cancer from just drops of blood or a bit of urine.

At MIT's Technology Review, Susan Young reports that while RainDance's tools are currently only available to researchers, they could eventually have an effect on the clinic as they would let clinicians perform tests on circulating tumor cells or a small number of cancer cells.

"What makes RainDance’s test unique is that only a tiny amount of tumor DNA is needed. That could make it possible to sequence the DNA from many more tumor samples," Young says. "Besides requiring less DNA, the technology makes it possible to sequence samples that have been treated with chemical fixatives for preservation."

Additionally, the New Scientist notes that researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working on a test similar in concept to a pregnancy test to detect cancer. The patient would urinate on a strip of paper coated with antibodies, though after being injected with nano-scale biomarkers that interact with proteins produced by the affected cells and snip off fragments that wind up in the urine to be detected.

The researchers report in PNAS this week that such an approach was able to detect colon cancer and blood clots in a mouse model.

"Something I think that's really shocking is the prevalence of cancer and cardiovascular disease in both the developed world and the developing world," MIT grad student Andrew Warren, tells the New Scientist. "Diagnostics are really a great way to help a lot of people as quickly as possible."