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Gates and Bezos invest in cancer testing venture

Image: Sequencer
Illumina’s gene sequencers are already being used to study cancer cells, and the new venture known as Grail is expected to take the field to the next level. (Credit: Illumina)

One of the giants of gene sequencing, Illumina, has spun off a new $100 million company called Grail to create an all-in-one blood test for cancer – and its investors include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

The name reflects the view that such a blood test is a “holy grail” for cancer diagnosis. Grail would use ultra-deep gene sequencing to look for the characteristic nucleic acids that are shed into the blood by tumors. Those traces are known as circulating tumor DNA, or ctDNA.

If the technology is perfected, it could offer a non-invasive way to find out if a patient has cancer well before symptoms appear. That would better the chances for treatment.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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