In order to properly diagnose many rare cancers such as mesothelioma, doctors must examine a tissue biopsy through a microscope so that they can identify any abnormal or cancerous cells. However, researchers in the U.K. indicate that microscopic analysis may become obsolete if doctors are able to borrow an automated process from astronomers.
In a study recently published in the British Journal of Cancer, researchers from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, and the Department of Oncology and the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge came together to learn how techniques “used by astronomers to automatically pick out indistinct objects in the night sky” may be applied in the cancer lab. Based on astronomical algorithms, the researchers were able to develop image analysis algorithms to automate the technique used in microscopic analysis of potential cancer cells, immunohistochemistry.
Recently, a panel of oncologists on OncLive’s Peer Exchange Series discussed cellular analysis and biopsy techniques used in cancer diagnoses. The doctors concluded that biopsy results can help to drive a patient’s treatment plan as well as aid in cancer diagnosis.
Professor Carlos Caldas, from Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute, and senior author of the study, “Astronomical algorithms for automated analysis of tissue protein expression in breast cancer,” suggested that sophisticated techniques such as this will help researchers better understand “the key genes and proteins important in predicting the success or failure of different cancer treatments.”
“It’s great that our software, which was originally developed to help track down planets, is now also being used to help improve the outlook for cancer patients, much closer to home,” said Dr. Nicholas Walton from Cambridge University’s Institute of Astronomy in a press release from Cancer Research UK.
The researchers evaluated the results of the manual process in contrast to the automated process after noting the levels of three separate proteins associated with more aggressive cancers amongst 2,000 tissue samples taken from breast cancer patients.
According to the researchers, “The results have been even better than we’d hoped.” Next, the researchers will run the test involving tissue samples from more than 20,000 breast cancer patients.
According to Julie Sharp, a senior science information manager at Cancer Research U.K., “This unlikely collaboration between astronomers and cancer researchers is a prime example of how, by working together, scientists from different disciplines can bring about innovative new solutions for beating cancer.”