AlphaBiolab’s satisfied customers will have already experienced the benefits of a company that uses some of the best DNA testing technology available. They may be further delighted to find out that cancer researchers also utilise the greatest of equipment as they use one of the world’s fastest computers to detect which versions of genes are only found in cancer cells.

Professor Rolf Skotheim, head scientist of a research group at the University of Oslo (Norway), is working to identify genes that cause bowel and prostate cancer. But the research may lead to a better understanding of every type of cancer. He outlined the aims of the research saying: “We want to find the typical defects associated with [particular types of] cancer. This will make it easier to understand what goes wrong with healthy cells and to understand the mechanisms that develop cancer.”

Every form of cancer, even every tumour, has its own distinct variants. In order to indentify the genes that lead to cancer, Professor Skotheim’s research group are comparing the genetic material in tumours with the genetic material in healthy cells.

All genes can be divided into active and inactive parts. A single gene may consist of tens of active stretches of nucleotides. RNA is a copy of a specific combination of the nucleotides from a specific gene in DNA. There are many possible combinations and it is precisely this search for all the possible combinations that is new in cancer research.

Researchers must look for errors inside the genes and between the different genes themselves. ‘Fusion genes’ may be used as a starting point in the detection of and fight against cancer. But fusion genes can also be found in healthy cells so this may not be as definitive an answer as scientists will have hoped. However, as Professor Stokheim explains, it could help improve the treatment of cancer. He says: “Once we have found the cancer-specific molecules, they can be used as biomarkers. In some cases, the biomarkers can be used to find cancer, determine the level of severity of the cancer, the risk of spreading and whether the patient should be given a more aggressive treatment.”

However, even when researchers find deviations in the genetic code, there is no guarantee that there is appropriate and targeted medicine available. But the research is in no way a loss, Professor Skotheim explained the magnitude of the project saying: “The point of our research is to figure out more of the big picture. If we identify a fusion gene that is only found in cancer cells, the discovery will be so important in itself that other research groups around the world will want to begin working on this straight away. If a cure is found that counteracts the fusion genes, this may have enormous consequences for the cancer treatment.”

The Best DNA Testing Technology

The research is conducted with the help of supercomputers that are 10,000 times faster than the average desktop computer. Professor Skotheim explains that it would be impossible to do so without them. He said: “We need powerful computers to crunch the enormous amounts of raw data. Even if you spent your whole life on this task, you would not be able to find the location of a single nucleotide.”

He added: “This is a matter of millions of nucleotides that must be mapped correctly in the system of coordinates of the genetic material. Once we have managed to find the [parts of the gene] that are only found in cancer cells, we will have made significant progress.”

He suggests that the research technique is a blessing that must be correctly utilised: “With the ability to run heavy analyses on such large amounts of data, we have an enormous advantage not available to other cancer researchers. Many medical researchers would definitely benefit from this possibility… The types of analyses that can be run are only limited by the imagination.”
Professor Skotheim explains that even with the use of supercomputers such research is still far from easy as “most cancer researchers are not used to working with enormous amounts of data and how to best analyse vast data sets. Once researchers have found a possible answer, they must determine whether the answer is chance or if it is a real finding. The solution is to find out whether they get the same answers from independent data sets from other parts of the world.”

Technology’s a Terrific Tool

Both technology and the analysis of DNA are wonderful things in their own right. But they are even more incredible when combined together in the right way – you only need to observe the results it produces for the experts such Professor Stockheim’s and in quality laboratories such as those at AlphaBiolabs.

We are proud to say that we perform all of our DNA tests in our own laboratories that are independently assessed to the highest UK and international standards.

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