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Researchers hope a blood test can reveal early signs of cancer

CancerSEEK has a lot of room for improvement.
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kirstypargeter via Getty Images

Scientists hope to perfect a new blood test that can detect the early signs of eight different types of cancer. Thrive Earlier Detection, a company founded by three Johns Hopkins cancer researchers, has raised $110 million from investors in order to bring ts early screening tool CancerSEEK to market, reports MIT Technology Review. Known as a "liquid biopsy," CancerSEEK works by detecting genetic mutations in tumor DNA and protein markers in blood plasma that are implicated in cancer.

Initial studies for CancerSEEK have been promising, but scientists say there's plenty of room for improvement. A retrospective study published in Science in 2018 of over 1000 patients with early-stage tumors revealed that CancerSEEK yielded a positive result about 70 percent of the time. CancerSEEK worked especially well for ovarian and liver cancers, with nearly a 98 percent success rate. It fared the most poorly with breast cancer, detecting only 33 percent of Stage 1 breast cancer. False positives were less than one percent.

A simple blood test that can detect cancer early and accurately has been biotech's holy grail invention for many years, but the science isn't quite there yet. Recent high-profile failures in the industry, such as that of Elizabeth Holmes' Theranos, are proof of the dangers of media enthusiasm mixed with venture capital funding. Thrive joins a crowded field of other biotech entrepreneurs aiming to get their tests into hospitals. Grail, a competing biotech startup headed by a former Google executive, is behind a blood test that correctly identified tumors in 87 percent of patients studied.

The next steps for CancerSEEK appear to be more studies. Thrive is partnering with healthcare provider Geisinger to launch a clinical trial of over 10,000 healthy individuals.

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