DNA 'fingerprint' brings prospect of fast test for cancer

Desiree Burns
December 5, 2018

The scientists tested the technology on 200 human cancer samples and Professor Trau said the accuracy of cancer detection is as high as 90 per cent.

Professor Trau said the team discovered that intense clusters of methyl groups placed in a solution caused cancer DNA fragments to fold into unique three-dimensional nanostructures that could easily be separated by sticking to solid surfaces such as gold.

The test has been developed by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology, using microscopic DNA structures.

So the researchers focused on DNA that circulates in the bloodstream after cancer cells die and release their cargo.

Abu Sina, Research Fellow, The University of Queensland; Laura G. Carrascosa, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Matt Trau, Professor, The University of Queensland.

The types of cancers we tested included breast, prostate, bowel and lymphoma. In cancer cells, this patterning is hijacked so that only genes that help the cancer grow are switched on. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes.

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Dr Ged Brady, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: 'Further clinical studies are required to evaluate the full clinic potential of the method'. 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. The suspect DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles.

After a series of experiments, the scientists hit on the new test for cancer. We are assessing the possibility to detect different cancer types from different body fluids from early to later stages of cancer.

"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 an accessible and low-priced technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Professor Trau said. 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. They add that the team is developing the test so that it could be used for screening of cancers especially in early stages. Among the cancer cells they noted that the methyl groups are in clusters at specific regions.

A universal cancer test would not be precise enough to detect tumour location or size, but it enables doctors to give a yes or no answer. However if the water changes to blue, the test suggest you're cancer free.

It is now hoped the tests, using blood or tissue samples, will be available within ten years.

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