Test Breakthrough Could See Cancer Diagnosed In Minutes

Lynette PayneDec 06, 2018

They then showed that the patterns had a dramatic impact on the DNA's chemistry, making normal and cancer DNA behave very differently in water.

They add that the team is developing the test so that it could be used for screening of cancers especially in early stages.

The test hinges on a unique DNA signature that appears to be found in all cancers, discovered by a team of scientists at the University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

The new method from the University of Queensland looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells.

"You can compare that with some of our frontline cancer detection techniques", he said. The researchers found the signature in multiple types of breast cancer as well as in prostate and colorectal cancer, and lymphoma.

Prof Trau said the results "stunned" them and they realized that this was a "general feature for all cancer". Trau, M. (2018). Epigenetically reprogrammed methylation landscape drives the DNA self-assembly and serves as a universal cancer biomarker.

It is based on a process known as epigenetics - the attachment of a chemical tag known as a methyl group to DNA. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes.

So the researchers focused on DNA that circulates in the bloodstream after cancer cells die and release their cargo.

He said: "Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern".

Taking advantage of this finding, the researchers designed a new test that uses gold nanoparticles to detect cancer.

The investigators found that the methylscape of cancer DNA causes DNA fragments to fold up into 3D "nanostructures" that have an affinity for gold.

"It's just a simple blood test that you can see with a naked eye", said Professor Trau.

The new technology has proved to be up to 90 percent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.

Now doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months. The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles. Scale bar denotes twenty nanometers (20 nm).

Abu Sina, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland; Laura G. Carrascosa, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Matt Trau, Professor, The University of Queensland. It's also unclear exactly how high the levels of cancer DNA need to be in order for the test to work, which would affect how early in the course of the disease the test could be used, the researchers said.

It is a promising start, though further analysis with more samples is needed to prove its clinical use.

"But it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer, and as a very accessible and cheap technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing".

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