DNA fragment length can be cancer marker

Scientists at the Institute of Bioinformatics and Applied Biotechnology (IBAB), Bengaluru, in collaboration with city-based Megha-Gen Bioscience Pvt Ltd, are studying the lengths of DNA fragments of normal healthy individuals and cancer patients to check if asymptomatic cancer could be detected through a mere blood test.
Researchers say DNA fragments are shorter for normal individuals, while it is several times longer for those with cancer. Normal DNA is 150 base pairs (units) long, while that of primary cancer tissue is much longer — going up to 1,000 base pairs in some cases.

"Cancer can be screened using a measure called DNA Integrity, which is the ratio of amounts of large DNA fragments versus short ones," said Dr Subhashini Srinivasan, faculty scientist, IBAB who is spearheading the research. "We are working on creating the age and disease baseline that could be used as a standard parameter for length of DNA-Integrity fragments."

In case of cancer patients, plasma DNA, a component of blood, is known to contain cancer DNA. Scientists say plasma DNA has the potential to be used as a surrogate tissue. When the tumor is inaccessible, tests are done through accessible cells, which are called surrogate cells.

IBAB's research began in 2015 and has so far measured the DNA-Integrity of blood samples provided by 30 cancer patients through MeghaGen Biosciences Private Ltd. "We are performing DNA-Integrity tests for 500-plus normal blood samples provided by Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology to create an agematched baseline for DNA-Integrity to improve prediction sensitivity. We believe standardization of DNA-Integrity can be critical for early diagnosis," said Dr Subhashini.



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