10 minute cancer test on the horizon

Cancer DNA Binds to Gold. That Could Lead to New Cancer Blood Test

Australian researchers have found that cells containing cancer could soon be detected using a simple test.

Current detection of cancer requires a tissue biopsy - a surgical procedure to collect tissue from the patient's tumour.

"A major advantage of this technique is that it is very cheap and extremely simple to do, so it could be adopted in the clinic quite easily", said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland. It would serve as an initial check for cancer, with doctors following up positive results with more focused investigations.

The researchers explained that they developed the technology after observing that different chemical patterns on DNA altered its ability to interact with metals, such as gold. This modification prevents certain genes from being expressed. These groups act as switches that switch the genes on and off and are called epigenomes. It is based on a unique DNA signature that appears to be common across cancer types. "This is a huge discovery that no one has grasped before", said Carrascosa. A test that detects one cancer may not work on another. The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles.

One possibility, still in development, is a liquid biopsy, testing for circulating cancer DNA in the blood. But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue. We have not yet tested other cancers, but because the methylation pattern is similar across all cancers it is likely the DNA will respond in the same way.

The test was developed after researchers from the University of Queensland found that cancer forms a unique DNA structure when placed in water.

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Chemistry Professor and research associate Matt Trau said, "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 affordable technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing".

Currently, the test detects only the presence of cancer, not the type of cancer.

"If it's very sensitive, we could use it for early diagnosis of cancer ... especially for cancers where there is no screening paradigm, like ovarian and pancreatic", she said. Among the cancer cells they noted that the methyl groups are in clusters at specific regions. "This could be done in conjunction with other tests and the combined information may give us a lot of ideas of where the cancer is and the stage".

"We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated", said Professor Trau, whose paper is published today in the journal Nature Communications.

This finding directed us to develop a test that can detect cancerous DNA in blood and tissue.

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