Health Care

Australian scientists develop '10-minute' cancer test

Australian scientists develop '10-minute' cancer test

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. Matt Trau, one of the researchers, said that it was hard to find a "simple marker" that could differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells.

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.

"We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection". Trau said, "Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern..."

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The quick and simple test sees DNA extracted from a tissue sample before it is mixed with water, to which gold nanoparticles are added. "This could be done in conjunction with other tests and the combined information may give us a lot of ideas of where the cancer is and the stage". We have not yet tested other cancers, but because the methylation pattern is similar across all cancers it is likely the DNA will respond in the same way.

The next step for the test will be validating it with tests on more cancer patients "to make sure that it actually stands up", followed by clinical trials that could take years, he said.

The position of these molecules forms part of the epigenome - a set of instructions that controls how genes are expressed. The team then noted that this novel marker was present in all types of breast cancer, colorectal or bowel cancer, prostate cancer and lymphomas. The gold particles change color depending on whether or not cancer DNA is present.

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Professor Trau said the team discovered that intense clusters of methyl groups placed in a solution caused cancer DNA fragments to fold into unique three-dimensional nanostructures that could easily be separated by sticking to solid surfaces such as gold.

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

Lead author Dr Abu Ali Ibn Sina, from the University of Queensland's Centre for Personalised Nanomedicine, said: 'This discovery could be a game-changer in point of care cancer diagnostics'. "You can detect it by eye, it's as simple as that".

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So far they've tested the new technology on 200 samples across different types of human cancers, and healthy cells. It's also unclear exactly how high the levels of cancer DNA need to be in order for the test to work, which would affect how early in the course of the disease the test could be used, the researchers said. "We certainly don't know yet whether it's the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics, but it looks really interesting", he concluded.