Universal Cancer Test: One Test to Diagnose Them All?

Image 10 News First

Image 10 News First

A "universal fingerprint" has been found in the DNA of common cancers that could one day enable a diagnosis to be made with a simple ten-minute blood test.

The researchers explained that they developed the technology after observing that different chemical patterns on DNA altered its ability to interact with metals, such as gold.

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.

The test, which is still in its early stages as the team search for a commercial partner, has so far been trialled on 200 tissue samples and has detected cancer with up to 90 per cent accuracy.

Senior researcher Matt Trau said it had been hard to find a "simple marker" that would distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones.

The researchers found that in healthy cells, methyl groups are spread out across the genome. This "unique" signature was studied in all types of breast cancer looked at as well as various other types of cancer, including bowel, prostate, and lymphoma cancers.

"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.

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.

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The research has been supported by a grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Dr. Jeffrey Weber, the deputy director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University's Langone Health, called the new study "great science" and applauded the idea of looking for a way to detect the cancer DNA methylscape. If cancer DNA is present, the gold nanoparticles will turn a different color than if cancer DNA is not present. A test that detects one cancer may not work on another.

It spots tiny amounts of DNA floating through vessels that could only have come from tumors and not from healthy cells. It's also attractive "as a very accessible and affordable technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", he said.

The technique can also be used on tissue biopsies. The procedure is invasive and relies on the patient noticing a lump, or reporting symptoms that their GP recognises as a potential sign of cancer.

The DNA in cancer cells can be riddled with mutations that drive the growth of a specific tumour, but these mutations tend to differ depending on the type of cancer.

The gold nanoparticles were contained in a solution which turned from a reddish colour to blue if healthy cells were detected but stayed the same colour in the presence of cancer cells.

"This test could be done in combination with other simple tests, and become a powerful diagnostic tool that could not just say that you have cancer, but also the type and stage", said Carrascosa.

"The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample", she added.

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