Scientists develop 'holy grail' blood test that detects cancer in 10 minutes

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"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change colour to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present", Professor Trau said.

Researchers have discovered a curious difference between the DNA from cancer cells and that from healthy cells, and this finding could lead to a new blood test for cancer.

Researchers have always been looking for a commonality among cancers to develop a diagnostic tool that could apply across all types.

Joyce Ohm, an associate professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, agreed that the work is "an exciting potential advance" in looking for a general epigenetic biomarker for cancer.

"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern", he explained.

Corresponding author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, in Australia, reckons it may be the "holy grail" of cancer diagnostics.

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

The scientists are now working towards clinical trials with patients who have a broader range of cancer types than they have tested so far.

Cancer cells in their early stages have certain DNA signatures, the team noted that make them unique.

It spots tiny amounts of DNA floating through vessels that could only have come from tumors and not from healthy cells.

Almost every cell in a person's body has the same DNA, but studies have found that cancer's progression causes this DNA to undergo considerable reprogramming. "This is a huge discovery that no one has grasped before", said Carrascosa.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Queensland team described a series of tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma.

Helpfully, these molecule clusters fold up into structures which like to stick to gold so can be tested for by using the precious metal.

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.

Trau said: "This happens in one drop of fluid".

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

The technology has also been adapted for electrochemical systems that allow affordable and portable detection that could eventually be performed using a mobile phone.

Sina said: "It works for tissue-derived genomic DNA and blood-derived circulating free DNA".

That's because the test is only accurate 90 per cent of the time - while it does not reveal where the cancer cells are located and how serious it is.

It will be some years before it can be used in clinics. "It's not ideal yet, but it's a promising start". It's also attractive "as a very accessible and cheap technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", he said.

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