Researchers at Edinburgh University in the UK have discovered a new approach that leverages mathematical methods devised by Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing for detecting a variety of diseases, including cancer, in advance.

The technique devised to break the Enigma code could be used to help measure the effectiveness of diagnostic tools that are currently in use.

At present, statistical techniques that were developed in the 1980s are used to evaluate the accuracy of diagnostic tests.

“The technique devised to break the Enigma code could be used to help measure the effectiveness of diagnostic tools that are currently in use.”

They are not capable of measuring the usefulness of a test to determine an individuals’ risk of developing a disease.

Now, researchers at Edinburgh University’s Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics believe that the methods devised by Turing could improve these.

Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics professor Paul McKeigue told media sources: “Most existing diagnostic tests for identifying people at high risk of cancer or heart disease do not come anywhere near the standards we could hope to see.

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“The new era of precision medicine is emerging, and this method should make it easier for researchers and regulatory agencies to decide when a new diagnostic test should be used.”

Alan Turing unveiled the method to break the Enigma code in 1941. His approach investigated the distribution of ‘weights of evidence’ work that establishes the potential outcomes in a given situation to help decide the strategy to crack the code.

The study by Edinburgh University researchers, which is published in Statistical Methods in Medical Research, revealed that applying the same principle is expected to facilitate the development of personalised treatments.