10 minute cancer test on the horizon

Kenny Tucker
December 6, 2018

Additionally, the research was supported by a National Breast Cancer Foundation grant to advance cancer diagnosis testing.

Cancer blood tests became possible after scientists realised the importance of DNA released when cancer cells die, which is carried in the bloodstream.

CNN noted the test is yet to be used on humans.

"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change color to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present", said Matt Trau, a professor of chemistry at the University of Queensland and deputy director and co-founder of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

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

"It is universal? We don't know until it's tested - it's impossible to know".

While the test is still in development, it draws on a radical new approach to cancer detection that could make routine screening for the disease a simple procedure for doctors. This "unique" signature was studied in all types of breast cancer looked at as well as various other types of cancer, including bowel, prostate, and lymphoma cancers.

Prof Trau said the results "stunned" them and they realized that this was a "general feature for all cancer".

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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 is based on a process known as epigenetics - the attachment of a chemical tag known as a methyl group to DNA.

The position of these molecules forms part of the epigenome - a set of instructions that controls how genes are expressed.

And so, Sina and colleagues compared the epigenetic patterns on the genomes of cancer cells to those of healthy cells, specifically focusing on patterns of methyl groups. Specifically, cancer DNA has clusters of methyl groups at specific locations and nearly no methylation elsewhere, while normal DNA's methyl groups are more evenly spread out across the entire genome.

"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern", he explained.

The test, which is still in its early stages as the team search for a commercial partner, has so far been trialled on 200 tissue samples and has detected cancer with up to 90 per cent accuracy. These 3D nanostructures could then be separated when they stick to solid surfaces, like gold. This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.

Currently, the researchers are working with the university's commercialization company, UniQuest, to develop and license the technology; they plan to assess its use in detecting different cancer types across all stages from different bodily fluids as well as in gauging responses to treatment.

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