Cancer breakthrough as scientists develop 'game-changing' 10 minute test

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Researchers discovered cancerous DNA reacts differently to normal DNA when mixed with metallic surfaces such as gold.

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.

The test has a sensitivity of about 90 per cent, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer, with 10 per cent false positives.

By comparison, the epigenetic methyl groups on DNA from healthy cells-dubbed methylscape by the researcher and help regulate gene expression-are typically spread out across the genome and don't cause the same folding.

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

"Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage", Carrascosa said.

"This unique nano-scaled DNA signature appeared in every type of breast cancer we examined, and in other forms of cancer including prostate, colorectal and lymphoma", he said.

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

Co-author Dr. Laura Carrascosa said: "There's been a big hunt to find whether there is some distinct DNA signature that is just in the cancer and not in the rest of the body". The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles.

It spots tiny amounts of DNA floating through vessels that could only have come from tumors and not from healthy cells. 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.

Researchers have developed a test that could be used to diagnose all cancers. The gold particles change color depending on whether or not cancer DNA is present.

Co-author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, 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 of cancer, and as a very accessible and cheap technology'. They said that the DNA from different types of cancers contain signatures which could act as cancer markers. This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.

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. However if the water changes to blue, the test suggest you're cancer free. "Further clinical studies are required to evaluate the full clinic potential of the method".

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