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New tool diagnoses cancer in 10 minutes

08 December 2018

Scientists developed a so-called "universal cancer test" that can detect traces of the disease in the bloodstream of a patient.

Carrascosa said the sensitivity of the test is considerably enough in detecting very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample.

Scientists are still working on developing this wonder-test, but once their work is completed, the world would be able to have a different approach to the detection of cancer. In some cases, the accuracy of cancer detection runs as high as 90%.

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. Researchers have been looking for a less invasive diagnostic test that can detect cancers at an earlier stage.

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

Because cancer is such a slow-developing disease, Di Carlo said the study's detection time of 10 minutes, versus the normal wait time of one week, isn't necessarily a game-changer.

"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", Abu Sina, a researcher at the Institute, said in a statement. Even better, the test works on circulating free DNA, molecular fragments that drift through easily obtained body fluids.

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. She said the test could serve as a screening tool to inform doctors that cancer is present in the patient's body, and then a subsequent test is required using other methods to identify the stage and type of cancer.

Methyl groups, which are tiny molecules of DNA, were found to be significantly altered in cancer patients. In cancer cells, however, this particular pattern is being hijacked, and only the genes that help cancer grows are switched on. "We find that DNA polymeric behavior is strongly affected by differential patterning of methylcytosine, leading to fundamental differences in DNA solvation and DNA-gold affinity between cancerous and normal genomes".

Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, and is responsible for an estimated 9.6 million deaths in 2018, according to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, the AIBN team discovered that the genome of a cancer cell is essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations. This requires a tiny amount of purified DNA to be mixed with some drops of gold particle solution.

The researcher added that "it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer".

New tool diagnoses cancer in 10 minutes