Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Test Breakthrough Could See Cancer Diagnosed In Minutes

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Delores Daniels | 05 December, 2018, 18:12

The breakthrough could lead to much earlier detection and increase the chance that treatment works because it could be started before traditional symptoms develop.

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

Corresponding author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, in Australia, reckons it may be the "holy grail" of cancer diagnostics. They studied patterns of cancerous DNA and healthy DNA, finding that the latter is sticky against metal surfaces.

"If you think of a cell as a hard-drive ... the epigenome is sort of like the apps the cell is running at any one moment".

Prof Trau said the results "stunned" them and they realized that this was a "general feature for all cancer".

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In experiments, the test distinguished tumors from healthy cells with up to 90 percent accuracy.

Our test also uses circulating cancer DNA but involves a different detection method. The test however can detect only the presence of the cancer and not the site of the cancer, stage of the cancer or the type of the cancer.

And they are not definitive. One example of an epigenetic change is DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group, or a "chemical cap", to part of the DNA molecule.

This alters how DNA can be read, switching genes on or off. If DNA from cancer cells is then added, it sticks to the nanoparticles in such a way that the water retains its original colour.

Co-author Dr. Laura Carrascosa said: "There's been a big hunt to find whether there is some distinct DNA signature that is just in the cancer and not in the rest of the body". 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.

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"The levels and patterns of tiny molecules called methyl groups that decorate DNA are altered dramatically by cancer - these methyl groups are key for cells to control which genes are turned on and off".

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

"This unique nano-scaled DNA signature appeared in every type of breast cancer we examined, and in other forms of cancer including prostate, colorectal and lymphoma", he said.

Taking advantage of this, the researchers designed a test that uses gold nanoparticles. "This is a huge discovery that no one has grasped before", said Carrascosa. "You can detect it by eye, it's as simple as that".

"This led to the creation of cheap and portable detection devices that could eventually be used as a diagnostic tool, possibly with a mobile phone".

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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".

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