New diagnostic test can detect any cancer type in minutes with 90% accuracy

pharmafile | December 5, 2018 | News story | Research and Development Australia, Cancer, pharma 

Researchers at the University of Queensland have a test which can rapidly detect the presence of cancer in a patient’s body from a blood or biopsy sample with 90% accuracy in trials involving 200 cancer samples.

The team discovered a unique DNA nanostructure which appears to be a common element of all cancer types and is distinct from healthy cells – an indicator which could prove instrumental in future approaches to cancer diagnoses.  

“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,” explained researcher Dr Abu Sina. “The levels and patterns of tiny molecules called methyl groups that decorate DNA are altered dramatically by cancer – these methyl groups are key for cells to control which genes are turned on and off.”

The test can analyse these methyl groups at the genome level in just minutes.  Researcher Dr Laura Carrascosa remarked: “In healthy cells, these methyl groups are spread out across the genome, but the genomes of cancer cells are essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations.”

So, the team found that placing these clusters in a solution caused the cancer DNA to fold into unique nanostructures which could be separated when they adhered to a solid surface.

“We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change colour to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present,” explained Professor Matt Trau. “So we were very excited about an easy way of catching these circulating free cancer DNA signatures in blood.

“Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood. This led to the creation of inexpensive and portable detection devices that could eventually be used as a diagnostic tool, possibly with a mobile phone.”

“We certainly don’t know yet whether it’s the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics,” he continued, “but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer, and as an accessible and inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing.”

Matt Fellows

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