DNA 'fingerprint' brings prospect of fast test for cancer

A blood test

Dr. Dino Di Carlo, director of cancer nanotechnology at UCLA's cancer center and a bioengineering professor at the Los Angeles university, told USA TODAY that the study needs to be further tested to determine its effectiveness.

Co-author Dr. Abu Sina said: "Because cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease, it has been hard to find a simple signature common to all cancers, yet distinct from healthy cells".

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia have developed a new test that can detect the presence of cancer cells in the body. The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer.

Now doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months. If a screening test isn't very specific, it finds a lot of false alarms that entail more tests - that can include radiation and invasive biopsies - and needless anxiety.

The research team has already tested over 200 tissue and blood samples, recording 90 percent accuracy.

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.

This unique signature-which the scientists dubbed the cancer "methylscape", for methylation landscape-appeared in every type of breast cancer they examined and appeared in other forms of cancer, too, including prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, and lymphoma.

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"On normal cells, these [beads] are evenly distributed, but in cancer cells they're actually bunched up together", he said.

Gold nanoparticles produced by laser ablation in heavy water. When the DNA from cancers cells was added, the water retains its color.

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 affordable technology'.

Ged Brady, of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: "This approach represents an exciting step forward in detecting tumour DNA in blood samples and opens up the possibility of a generalised blood-based test to detect cancer". Survival rate for most cancers stagnates at 20% because a majority of the patients come when the disease is already in the advanced, or III and IV, stages.

"We certainly don't know yet whether it's the Holy Grail or not for all cancer diagnostics", concluded Dr. Trau, "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".

Scientists have developed a cheap and simple test that can detect malignancy in 10 minutes. Further clinical studies are needed to assess the full clinical potential.

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