Our DNA is partly made up of nucleic acids. When a cell dies, the DNA contained in the cell is broken down and cell-free nucleic acids (cfNAs) are released into the bloodstream where they circulate around the body. Hence some nucleic acids are expected to be present in the blood and plasma of healthy individuals. Recently, it's been shown that tumour cells – such as the lung cancer cells pictured – release mutated cfNAs, resulting in elevated cfNAs levels in the blood of cancer patients. These nucleic acids could provide a convenient way of diagnosing and monitoring the progression of cancer in the future – researchers have developed a sensor which is used to detect cfNAs in blood. The sensor is highly sensitive and selective for the mutated cfNAs released by tumour cells, and has so far been tested on a number of lung cancer and melanoma patients, providing simple, non-invasive, biopsies.
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