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Toshiba develops method to accurately detect cancers from drop of blood

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Toshiba Corporation said it has developed a device which can detect 13 types of cancer with 99 per cent accuracy from a single drop of blood.

The Japanese firm, who developed the diagnostic tool with the National Cancer Center Research Institute and Tokyo Medical University, said they hope to commercialise the device in “several years” after beginning a trial next year.

According to the Toshiba scientists, the method is designed to examine the types and concentration of microRNA molecules secreted in blood from cancer cells. Other companies such as Toray Industries Inc — a Japanese company who specialise in technologies in organic synthetic chemistry, polymer chemistry, and biochemistry — have previously developed technologies to diagnose cancer using microRNA molecules from a blood sample.

“Compared to other companies’ methods, we have an edge in the degree of accuracy in cancer detection, the time required for detection and the cost,” said Koji Hashimoto, a chief research scientist at Toshiba’s Frontier Research Laboratory.

According to the researchers, the test will be used to detect a wide variety of cancers, including but not limited to: gastric, oesophageal, lung, liver, biliary tract, pancreatic, bowel, ovarian, prostate, bladder and breast cancers, as well as sarcomas and gliomas.

Toshiba says this device can detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99 percent accuracy

Toshiba says this device can detect 13 types of cancer from a single drop of blood with 99 per cent accuracy

Image credit: Toshiba Corp | Via Kyodo

The scientists said the tool, which consists of a chip and a small device, can conduct the diagnosis in less than two hours. A blood test using it is expected to cost 20,000 yen (£142) or less, it added.

Furthermore, the company said that the device will be used in health check-ups and believe it could also reduce the cost of cancer screening.

In its five-year business strategy from April 2019, Toshiba positioned medical businesses, including genome analysis and cell diagnosis, among key growth pillars along with automation, batteries and digital solutions using artificial intelligence.

There have been several companies that have already ventured into the detection of early stages of cancer with a simple blood test; however, some companies have previously undergone scrutiny over the technology developed.

In 2003, a blood-testing start-up Theranos claimed it would be able to diagnose fatal diseases with just one drop of blood. However, once the company rolled out the technology commercially, these available tests often took far longer than a couple of minutes to carry out, and also returned false positives.

In more promising results, in 2016 Microsoft founder Bill Gates backed a DNA sequencing firm, called Illumina, who were developing technology which would detect fragments of cancer genes released by tumours into the bloodstream.

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