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December 13, 2018
Imagine one simple, noninvasive test capable of detecting the presence of cancer, regardless of its type or location in the patient’s body, in just 10 minutes.
That’s the possibility raised by an attention-grabbing discovery revealed last week based on research in Australia. Researchers from the University of Queensland discovered that traces of human DNA from a range of common cancers share a unique structural signature when mixed with gold nanoparticles and water.
Healthy DNA yields a blue solution, according to The Guardian. With cancer DNA, the solution stays pink. In experiments using 200 cancer samples – including breast, prostate, bowel and lymphoma cancers – the test succeeded in detecting cancer 90 percent of the time.
Cancer test would be easy and affordable
“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 for cancer, and as an accessible and inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing,” researcher and co-author Matt Trau, a professor of chemistry, told The Guardian.
As the researchers write:
Each cancer type, whether it be breast or bowel cancer, has different genetic and other features. A test that detects one cancer may not work on another. Researchers have long been looking for a commonality among cancers to develop a diagnostic tool that could apply across all types.
Our research, published in the journal Nature Communications, has found that cancer DNA forms a unique structure when placed in water. The structure is the same in DNA from samples of breast, prostate and bowel cancers, as well as lymphoma. We used this discovery to develop a test that can identify the cancerous DNA in less than ten minutes.
More work and biospecimens needed
The test raises the possibility of earlier diagnosis (and thus, better patient outcomes) than in a traditional biopsy, where the discovery of a lump often triggers the procedure. Though the experimental test uses circulating tumor cells (CTCs), the detection method is different from liquid biopsies in development that also look for CTCs.
“Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have a cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage,” co-author and researcher Laura Carrascosa told The Guardian. Further testing with specimen samples, as well as a large clinical study, would be required to validate and refine the method.
This is an exciting development with potentially large implications for cancer detection, treatment and outcomes. Once again, the work begins with human biospecimens and the ability of researchers to find and procure them.
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