Using water and gold, Australian researchers discover 'universal cancer biomarker'

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Using water and gold, Australian researchers discover 'universal cancer biomarker'

The cheap and simple test uses a colour-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes.

"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", said Sina.

These 3D nanostructures could then be separated when they stick to solid surfaces, like gold.

Like this story? Subscribe to FierceBiotech! The methyl groups are spread all over the genome but the genomes of cancer cells are not just completely barren but they also only feature the methyl clusters at specific locations.

The test hinges on a unique DNA signature that appears to be found in all cancers, discovered by a team of scientists at the University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN).

It should be noted that the test can not determine which one cancer or at what stage. The researchers dubbed this the cancer "methylscape", and they observed it in every type of breast cancer they studied, as well as in other cancer types, including prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lymphoma.

So far they've tested the new technology on 200 samples across different types of human cancers, and healthy cells.

If the water stays pink this would suggest you have cancer, although the test can not detect what type or how advanced the disease is. A less invasive test that has the potential to spot cancer earlier could transform how patients are screened for the disease. The data being collected with the test is being used to develop its next-generation assays, such as Lunar-1 for cancer recurrence and Lunar-2 for early cancer detection.

The research team disclosed that the test would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer.

The technology has also been adapted for electrochemical systems that allow affordable and portable detection that could eventually be performed using a mobile phone.

"The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample", Carrascosa said. When the DNA from cancers cells was added, the water retains its color.

A genetic pattern in all cancers, researchers said Tuesday, could help make diagnosing cancer more accessible and affordable. In contrast, normal DNA folds in a somewhat different way, which does not result in such a strong affinity for gold, the researchers said.

An MRI scan is the most often used method of cancer detection, but it tends to miss small tumors and only works to confirm a diagnosis when it is often too late to start treatment.

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

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