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

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It involves a simple procedure where a colour changing fluid snap reveals malignant cells present anywhere in the body, in 10 minutes.

Currently, the test detects only the presence of cancer, not the type of 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.

Matt Trau, a professor at the University of Queensland, said: "Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood".

"We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection".

Using transmission electron microscopy (a high-resolution microscope), we saw that cancerous DNA fragments folded into three-dimensional structures in water.

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. "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". But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue. 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. For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA. Among the cancer cells they noted that the methyl groups are in clusters at specific regions.

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

These instantly change color depending on whether the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present.

"That absolutely stunned us", Professor Trau said.

"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. "You can detect it by eye, it's as simple as that". A less invasive test that has the potential to spot cancer earlier could transform how patients are screened for the disease.

It is a promising start, though further analysis with more samples is needed to prove its clinical use.

Mr Trau of Queensland University acknowledged yesterday that "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 affordable technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing".

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