Published: Wed, December 05, 2018
Medical | By Vicki Mclaughlin

One Test to Diagnose Them All — Universal Cancer Test

One Test to Diagnose Them All — Universal Cancer Test

Researchers found cells for breast, prostate and breast cancer have a unique "signature" - a pattern of molecules on DNA.

The researchers explained that they developed the technology after observing that different chemical patterns on DNA altered its ability to interact with metals, such as gold.

These distinct patterns of molecules control which genes are turned on and off at any given time and "decorate the DNA".

Ged Brady, of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: "This approach represents an exciting step forward in detecting tumour DNA in blood samples and opens up the possibility of a generalised blood-based test to detect cancer".

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

They discovered cancer cells' genome is essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations - instead of being spread evenly like in normal cells.

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

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

"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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"You can detect it by eye - it's as simple as that", study senior author Matt Trau, a professor and senior group leader at the University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said in a statement.

After a series of experiments, the scientists hit on the new test for cancer. If cancer DNA is present, the gold nanoparticles will turn a different color than if cancer DNA is not present. 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. This requires a tiny amount of purified DNA to be mixed with some drops of gold particle solution.

Taking advantage of this, the researchers designed a test that uses gold nanoparticles.

The discovery was made by a medical research team in Queensland.

The technique can also be used on tissue biopsies.

"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 an accessible and cheap technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Trau added.

Blood tests are sometimes ordered to help doctors diagnose cancer, but different ones are required depending on the type suspected.

"This test could be done in combination with other simple tests, and become a powerful diagnostic tool that could not just say that you have cancer, but also the type and stage", said Carrascosa.

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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