DNA 'fingerprint' brings prospect of fast test for cancer

05 December, 2018, 20:39 | Author: Kara Nash
  • Image 10 News First

"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change color to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present", said Matt Trau, a professor of chemistry at the University of Queensland and deputy director and co-founder of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

By comparison, the epigenetic methyl groups on DNA from healthy cells-dubbed methylscape by the researcher and help regulate gene expression-are typically spread out across the genome and don't cause the same folding.

For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA.

The test uses a fluid which changes colour in the presence of tumour cells anywhere in the body and is cheap and simple to do, meaning that it could be adopted by clinics easily.

The new method from the University of Queensland looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells.

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

"Even for breast cancer, there are a dozen types, so we thought there would be different tests for different types 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. The researchers found the signature in multiple types of breast cancer as well as in prostate and colorectal cancer, and lymphoma.

"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".

Cancer cells in their early stages have certain DNA signatures, the team noted that make them unique.

"That absolutely stunned us", Professor Trau said.


Tests in the lab showed that the scientists could distinguish normal DNA from cancer DNA by looking for a colour change in the gold particle solution that was visible to the naked eye within a few minutes.

The test can use "circulating free DNA", or DNA released into the blood from cancer or healthy cells.

That's because the test is only accurate 90 per cent of the time - while it does not reveal where the cancer cells are located and how serious it is.

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

Therese Becker, a molecular biologist from the University of New South Wales, agreed the research was "interesting" and required further investigation.

Whether the biomarker is indeed common to all cancers also remains unclear, Dr Gray said.

We used this discovery to develop a test that can identify the cancerous DNA in less than ten minutes.

However, the work is preliminary, and much more research is needed before this test could be useful for patients, outside experts told Live Science.

Chemistry Professor and research associate Matt Trau 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 for cancer, and as an accessible and low-cost technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing".

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