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This simple test could one day tell you if you have cancer

05 December 2018

He said that they initially believed that each cancer would need a separate test for detection.

"A major advantage of this technique is that it is very cheap and extremely simple to do, so it could be adopted in the clinic quite easily", said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia.

The new technology has proved to be up to 90 percent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA. It would serve as an initial check for cancer, with doctors following up positive results with more focused investigations.

The researchers were surprised to find the marker appeared in every type of breast cancer they examined, as well as in people with prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma.

We discovered that cancerous DNA has a strong affinity towards gold, which means it strongly binds to the gold particles. 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.

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The tiny molecules that decorate DNA, called methyl groups, are altered dramatically by cancer. This modification prevents certain genes from being expressed. In cancer cells, this patterning is hijacked so that only genes that help the cancer grow are switched on.

"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".

The researchers have dubbed it the cancer "methylscape" - for methylation landscape.

Trau said: "This happens in one drop of fluid". A test that detects one cancer may not work on another. If cancer DNA is present, the gold nanoparticles will turn a different color than if cancer DNA is not present.

Cancer is caused by changes in DNA, which controls the way cells function.

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The test was developed after researchers from the University of Queensland found that cancer forms a unique DNA structure when placed in water.

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 low-priced technology'.

Currently, the test detects only the presence of cancer, not the type of cancer. They add that the team is developing the test so that it could be used for screening of cancers especially in early stages. "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".

This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.

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This simple test could one day tell you if you have cancer