London: Scientists have devised a new test that can identify gene defects in cancer patients, which they claim may pave the way for each patient getting "personalised" medicine.
An international team, led by Harvard Medical School, says the `Snapshot` test screens patients for mutations in 14key cancer genes at the same time. The test, which examines tissue taken from tumours, gives a result within three weeks.
By this time, patients have had surgery and can then be offered the most effective drugs to target the mutations fuelling their specific cancer, say the scientists.
In their research the scientists say that in as many as one in 10 cases, they have discovered mutations which would normally have been "invisible" resulting in patients getting treatment that might not work, the `Daily Mail` reported.
Dr Dora Dias-Santagata at Massachusetts General Hospital, a team member, said: "This test allows us to look for a defined set of common mutations that occur in cancer cells, but not in the other cells of the body.
"These mutations affect genes that disrupt the checks and balances that usually govern the behaviour of normal cells, giving the mutant cells an advantage to divide and multiply, and the potential to give rise to a tumour.
"Because each tumour will harbour a specific set of mutations, the Snapshot test allows to match individual patients with the therapies that will most likely be effective in treating their cancer."
In fact, in their research of almost 600 patients with lung cancer, the scientists analysed samples of tumour tissue for 50 "hotspots" -- genetic mutations in 14 key cancer genes.
The average turnaround time from a sample being sent for testing to final results was just 2.8 weeks. The genes include those such as EGFR, KRAS, BRAF, HER2, and half of the samples tested positive for one or more mutations.
Previously, testing could only be carried out on a handful of genetic mutations at the same time.
Dr Lecia Sequist, who led the team, said: "Our study is exciting as it demonstrates that indeed it is possible today to integrate testing for multiple genetic biomarkers into a busy clinic and steer patients toward personalised therapies."
The study found that 10 per cent of patients harboured genetic abnormalities that would not have been found with a less comprehensive test, and remained "invisible", according to findings published in the `Annals of Oncology` journal.