Universal Cancer Test: One Test to Diagnose Them All?

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The test uses a fluid which changes colour in the presence of tumour cells anywhere in the body and is cheap and simple to do, meaning that it could be adopted by clinics easily.

Now doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months. This allowed them to develop a test that distinguishes between healthy cells and cancerous ones, even from the tiny traces of DNA that find their way into the bloodstream.

"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".

And because the same changes occur in all cancerous cells, the test should work on all cancer types, the team believes.

"Our approach also enabled non-invasive cancer detection, (i.e a blood test), in 10 (minutes) from plasma derived (circulating free) DNA samples with excellent specificity", researchers wrote in a report for Nature Communications. But if the technique is further developed, perhaps the most immediate potential application would be monitoring existing cancer patients for disease recurrence, she said.

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Taking advantage of this, the researchers designed a test that uses gold nanoparticles. But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue.

The test also works electrochemically by using flat gold electrodes and small amounts of purified DNA. For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA.

"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", Sina said in the press release.

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

"This is a huge discovery that no-one has grasped before", said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland.

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Since cancer DNA has higher affinity to gold, it provides a higher relative electrochemical current signal in comparison to normal DNA.

"It's just a simple blood test that you can see with a naked eye", said Professor Trau.

The test is offering new hope that all types of the disease can be spotted early when treatment is the most effective, the newspaper said.

The new diagnostic test demonstrated an accuracy of up to 90 percent when tested on 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, according to the researchers.

The researchers acknowledged that their test needs further study, "but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple "universal marker" of cancer", Trau said in the statement. "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 low-priced technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Trau said.

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