New blood test learns from DNA in the bloodstream.

Scientists have developed a blood test or “liquid biopsy” that detects lung cancer at an early stage, something that could save more than 11,000 lives in the US alone.

The research, led by radiation oncologist Maximilian Diehn from the Stanford Cancer Institute in California and published in Nature, uses machine learning to drill down on tiny levels of DNA from the tumour in the bloodstream.

The team found the quantity of DNA revealed a host of facts about the most common type of lung cancer, known as non-small cell lung cancer, in people who already had the disease, including its cell type, how advanced it was and how aggressively it was likely to spread.

The researchers then trained a machine learning model to rate the chance that DNA variants in the blood came from lung cancer, a method they call “lung cancer likelihood in plasma” or “Lung-CLiP”.

When they put Lung-CLiP through its paces, it detected lung cancer in 63% of patients who were at Stage 1, the earliest phase when the cancer is confined to one lung and hasn’t spread to lymph nodes or outside the chest.

It’s potentially a critical advance because lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the US, killing more than 155,000 people each year. One in five of those deaths is preventable.

Read the full story in Cosmos magazine here