DNA 'fingerprint' brings prospect of fast test for cancer

Scientists develop 'holy grail' blood test that detects cancer in 10 minutes

‘Huge discovery’ as scientists develop 10-minute universal cancer test that could transform diagnosis

"The test to detect cancerous cells can be performed in 10 minutes".

Researchers have always been looking for a commonality among cancers to develop a diagnostic tool that could apply across all types.

The test has been developed by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, using microscopic DNA structures.

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

At this stage, the test can only detect the presence of cancer cells, not their type or the stage of the disease.

Dr Gray, who studies the cancer biomarkers of melanoma, said more work was needed to determine if the test would be useful as a screening tool.

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The team found that the DNA of cancer cells sticks strongly to nanoparticles of gold giving a quick indication whether disease is present or not to the naked eye.

When circulating tumor DNA fragments are placed in water, they begin to fold into 3D shapes different than DNA from healthy cells-driven by the dense clusters of methyl groups found along DNA molecules that have been reprogrammed by cancer. Altering this pattern is one of the ways cancer cells regulate their own proliferation.

"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern", Professor Trau said.
This is because gold can affect molecular behaviour in a way that causes visible colour changes.

"This makes it bind to the gold nanoparticles, and it's much stronger binding than the normal DNA is". He said, "We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated".

The test also works for electrochemical detection - when the DNA is attached onto flat gold electrodes. The gold particles change color depending on whether or not cancer DNA is present.

The technology has also been adapted for electrochemical systems that allow low-cost and portable detection that could eventually be performed using a mobile phone.

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For this test to work properly the DNA must be pure.

The technology has proven to be up to 90 per cent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.

And though this "methylscape" could serve as a biomarker for cancer, researchers didn't have a good way to detect it. The researchers found the signature in multiple types of breast cancer as well as in prostate and colorectal cancer, and lymphoma. 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. Professor Trau said that the next step would be to start clinical trials to hone the test.

We are also considering whether the test could help monitor treatment responses based on the abundance of DNA signatures in body fluid during treatment.

"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.

This article has been republished from materials provided by The University of Queensland.

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