Australian researchers develop 10-minute cancer test


So far we have tested more than 200 tissue and blood samples, with 90 percent accuracy.

In contrast, normal DNA folds in a somewhat different way, which does not result in such a strong affinity for gold, the researchers said.

A "universal fingerprint" has been found in the DNA of common cancers that could one day enable a diagnosis to be made with a simple ten-minute blood test.

Cancer is caused by changes in DNA, which controls the way cells function.

"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 in Australia.

"We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection".

The team then noted that this novel marker was present in all types of breast cancer, colorectal or bowel cancer, prostate cancer and lymphomas.

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The new study focused on the "epigenome", or chemical modifications to DNA that turn genes "on" or "off".

The team found that in the healthy cells these methyl groups are spread across the genome.

Previous research has shown that the pattern of DNA methylation in cancer cells differs from that in healthy cells.

After a series of experiments, the scientists hit on the new test for cancer. He said, "We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated". The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles. It's also attractive "as a very accessible and low-priced technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", he said. The test however can detect only the presence of the cancer and not the site of the cancer, stage of the cancer or the type of the cancer.

The DNA in cancer cells can be riddled with mutations that drive the growth of a specific tumour, but these mutations tend to differ depending on the type of cancer. 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.

Tests in the lab showed that the scientists could distinguish normal DNA from cancer DNA by looking for a colour change in the gold particle solution that was visible to the naked eye within a few minutes. She said, "Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have a cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage".

It is hoped that the new test will eventually be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check - or even using a mobile phone app.