Friday, 14 December, 2018

Universal Cancer Test: One Test to Diagnose Them All?

Image 10 News First Image 10 News First
Ben Pena | 06 December, 2018, 03:14

The technology, however, requires further development as it can now only determine the presence of cancer, but not the disease type or stage.

The new method from the University of Queensland looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells. While the DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over it, the DNA inside cancer cells is largely bare, with methyl groups found only in small clusters at specific locations.

When circulating tumor DNA fragments are placed in water, they begin to fold into 3D shapes different than DNA from healthy cells-driven by the dense clusters of methyl groups found along DNA molecules that have been reprogrammed by cancer.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications Dr Matt Trau, Professor of Chemistry, said: "Our approach enabled non-invasive cancer detection, i.e a blood test, in 10 min from plasma derived DNA samples with excellent specificity".

He said: "Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern".

It is hoped that the new test will eventually be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check - or even using a mobile phone app.

They add that the team is developing the test so that it could be used for screening of cancers especially in early stages.

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So, the researchers developed a test that exploits this ability of cancer DNA to stick to gold. 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. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes. If 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA exist, the gold nanoparticles will instantly change color.

"That absolutely stunned us", Professor Trau said. Specifically, cancer DNA has clusters of methyl groups at specific locations and nearly no methylation elsewhere, while normal DNA's methyl groups are more evenly spread out across the entire genome.

Co-author Dr. Laura Carrascosa said: "There's been a big hunt to find whether there is some distinct DNA signature that is just in the cancer and not in the rest of the body". 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.

The technology has proven to be up to 90 per cent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.

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.

Co-author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, said: '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 a very accessible and cheap technology'.

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