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A view of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Law campus in Singapore Reuters

Researchers at National University of Singapore (NUS) have long been exploring innovative precision medicine techniques that would change the traditional treatment methods of cancer, which is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the second leading cause of death globally.

An estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018 were attributed to cancer worldwide, making it one of the top priority diseases to be tackled with improvement in diagnosis as well as treatment, said a statement from the university,

Now, the researchers have unveiled the new innovative techniques in areas such as genomics, liquid biopsies and artificial intelligence (AI), which are expected to widen the way for personalised and precision medicine techniques to help the doctors understand, diagnose and treat with more efficiency.

By focusing on each cancer case as unique to the individual, NUS researchers are hoping to improve the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer.
By focusing on each cancer case as unique to the individual, NUS researchers are hoping to improve the understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. NUS website

Genomics

By analysing the variations in genomes, scientists can understand whether a person can develop a disease and its progress or how they respond to the medicine.

Professor Chng Wee Joo from the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore at NUS is currently improving the use of high-resolution global genomic techniques that would be helpful to determine drug resistance, identify drug targets and improve disease prognosis in blood cancers.

Prof Chng said that through this study the medical experts can differentiate patients as per the risk groups and that will help to decide on the intensity of treatment to be given to the patient.

"The understanding of specific genetic abnormalities can identify patients that will benefit from specific drugs and treatments, as well as the doses of drugs to use," he said adding that this will help to decide which drug will be more effective to a particular patient and his lab "has been at the forefront of this research for blood cancer over the last decade."

Liquid Biopsies

Professor Lim Chwee Teck from the Biomedical Institute for Global Health Research & Technology at NUS has found an innovative way to sequence a patient's genome without a traditional procedure called tumour biopsy.

This advanced technology includes a miniaturised device that can successfully detect and isolate cancer cells from blood and it is low-cost as well as highly non-invasive, he said.

Explaining the new methodology, Prof Lim said, "the genetic sequencing can be performed on circulating tumour DNA strands or cancer cells obtained from blood. This is known as a liquid biopsy," which can be done more frequently than a tumour biopsy.

In addition, he mentioned that with the help of this new technique medical experts can easily receive real-time feedback as to the condition of the patient through frequent sampling and testing. He also claimed that during the trial period, which involved several patients, the results showed positive notes.

As per Prof Lim, the liquid biopsy and precision medicine could potentially disrupt how cancer is managed and treated. This advanced technology has been commercialised by NUS spinoff – Biolidics Pte Ltd.

Artificial Intelligence

However, after the genome sequencing and diagnosis, when the treatment starts, AI techniques are believed to boost further process, especially when the case is extremely complicated and rare.

The news release added that cutting-edge AI is helpful in suggesting combinations of medicines based on the patient's medical records and other necessary databases.

Professor Dean Ho from the Singapore Institute for Neurotechnology at NUS has introduced CURATE.AI, a platform which will help the doctors to run the AI just to assist the treatment.

With the help of CURATE.AI, "we have a way of uniquely correlating drug combinations with patient responses. This correlation allows us to create what we call a phenotypic map, which resembles a three-dimensional 'mountain', with the peak being the optimum efficacy," he said.