Scientists develop 10-minute universal cancer test
Cancer is one of the most researches diseases in recent decades, and now scientists are developing a test which can indicate whether a person has cancer in less than ten minutes.
The test uses a colour-changing fluid to detect the disease, but does not indicate where or how advanced the cancer is. The researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia who have developed it say it has detected about 90 per cent of cancers so far.
“It is extremely simple to do,” said researcher Laura Carrascosa.“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 type and stage.”
A matter of molecules
The team’s research centred around the fact that healthy cells are full of molecules called methyl groups, which make sure that the right genes are switched on and off.In cancerous cells, where this process has gone wrong, the number of methyl groups decreases – but those that are there are in tight clusters, focused on the genes that will help the cancer to grow.
The team discovered that this affected DNA chemistry, making normal and cancerous DNA behave differently in water and in the way they stick to gold.
“This is a huge discovery that no one has grasped before,” said Carrascosa. To date, most research has focused on the biological consequences of the cell changes rather than the chemical effects.
The patient’s DNA is added to water containing tiny gold particles which turn the water pink. DNA from cancer cells sticks to the particles in such a way that the water keeps its colour. DNA from healthy cells binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue.The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample.
The researchers tested 200 DNA samples from patients with breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers, as well as healthy cells, before publishing their results in the journal Nature Communications.
Chemistry professor and lead researcher Matt Trau said: “We certainly don’t know yet whether it’s the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics, but it looks really interesting as a simple universal marker for cancer, and as an accessible and inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing.”
To test for cancer at the moment, doctors must collect a tissue biopsy from a patient’s suspected tumour, which is invasive and relies on the patient noticing a potential tumour or reporting symptoms that their GP recognises as a possible sign of cancer.
The scientists are now working towards clinical trials with patients suffering from a broader range of cancer types than they have tested so far.
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