And Hashem said to Moshe, “Early in the morning present yourself to Pharaoh, as he is coming out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says Hashem: Let My people go that they may worship Me. Exodus 8:16, The Israel Bible
It’s a no-brainer that the earlier one’s cancer is discovered, the higher the chance of survival. But identifying malignancies is not easy; some of the more than 100 types of cancer are expert at hide-and-seek, showing symptoms only when the deadly cells have metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body.
But a new blood test developed by a fifth-year doctoral student at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Medicine will help locate cancer cells. On the basis of the information obtained by the test, the technology can identify accurately and sensitively the pathological processes in specific organs.
“Ninety percent of cancer deaths could be prevented by early diagnosis,” explained Joshua Moss, who headed the team that developed the test. “That’s exactly what the new test will allow.” For his successful development, Moss will be awarded the prestigious Kaye Prize for Innovation by the university.
Every year, millions of people around the world die of diseases that could have been cured if only they could have been diagnosed at an early stage – one that would enable treatment and prevent the worsening of the situation. The issue of early diagnosis was a concern for Joshua Moss, who is currently working on his doctoral dissertation.
His innovative, non-invasive test enables the identification of free DNA that is secreted into the blood, to find out if it originates in diseased cell, and to identify which organs it has reached. It will also allow identification of heart disease, organ failure and cancer of all kinds and monitor the development of infectious diseases.
Moss conducted the study under the supervision of Prof. Yuval Dor and Dr. Ruth Shemer of the Faculty of Medicine and Prof. Tommy Kaplan of the School of Engineering and Computer Science, working in collaboration with Prof. Benjamin Glaser of the Hadassah University Medical Center.
The technology is based on the identification of models of methylation in free DNA – the chemical marking of DNA that determines the identity of cells, for example a liver cell versus a lung cell. DNA methylation is a process by which methyl groups are added to the DNA molecule. Methylation can change the activity of a DNA segment without changing the sequence.
The team’s research hypothesis was that the DNA methylation models contained information that would allow the ability to understand whether the body has diseased cells and what they originate from. It would not only detect cancerous tumors in the body, but also track organ transplants and monitor the development of infectious diseases. “In the case of cancer patients being diagnosed, the new technology will make possible the detection of the diseased organ, even when any other technology fails,” said Moss.
The new test is very sensitive, unlike other tests to identify cancers that are very invasive and therefore are not performed often not done enough. “The new blood test will find out which cells secrete DNA into the blood. If it turns out to be an abnormally high level of free DNA that comes from the breast tissue, doctors will suspect that something is wrong with the breast and can refer the patient to appropriate testing and treatment.”
Moss and his team created a huge reservoir of methylation information based on previous studies and lab tests. They identified specific methylation patterns for each cell in the human body so they could measure how much DNA came from a particular tissue or monitor all the DNA in the blood and the resulting changes.
In the future, when an oncologist wants to know how a patient responds to chemotherapy, he can infer this by measuring the amount of DNA released from cancer, Moss explained.