Researchers develop test to detect cancers in 10 minutes

Pearl Mccarthy
December 8, 2018

Scientists developed a so-called "universal cancer test" that can detect traces of the disease in the bloodstream of a patient. After a series of tests the team hit on the new test for cancer: suspected DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles that turn the water pink; if cancer cell DNA is added it sticks to the nanoparticles in a manner that the water retains original colour, if health cell DNA is added it binds differently turning the water blue.

The cancer marker was identified by scientists at the University of Queensland who have also developed a simple test to detect it in blood and biopsy tissue.

While further research and development is still underway, the procedure is expected to open new corollaries of screening methods.

The next step for the team is to stage clinical studies into how early cancer can be detected, and whether the test can be used to gauge the effectiveness of treatment. Additionally, the research was supported by a National Breast Cancer Foundation grant to advance cancer diagnosis testing.

Dr Sina said it had been hard to find a simple signature that was distinct from healthy cells and common to all cancers.

Almost every cell in a person's body has the same DNA, but studies have found that cancer's progression causes this DNA to undergo considerable reprogramming.

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The types of cancers we tested included breast, prostate, bowel and lymphoma. DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over; inside cancer cells it is largely bare with methyl groups found in small clusters in specific locations. Even so, the researchers managed to identify a unique DNA nanostructure which is common to all types of cancer. In at least some of the cancer types, the accuracy rate is as high as 90 percent.

The researchers also found that the samples of molecules attached to DNA that control which genes are turned on and off, look different on cancer cells. In cancer cells, however, this particular pattern is being hijacked, and only the genes that help cancer grows are switched on.

She said the technology hinged on an observation that differences in chemical patterns on DNA affected its ability to interact with metal surfaces, such as gold. In contrast, normal DNA folds in a somewhat different way, which does not result in such a strong affinity for gold, the researchers said.

So far they've tested the new technology on 200 samples across different types of human cancers, and healthy cells.

"We certainly don't know yet whether it's the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics, but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker for cancer, and as an accessible and cheap technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Trau said.

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