Australian scientists are being hailed for possibly developing a quick and easy test that can detect any kind of cancer in a matter of minutes.
Cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease and different types of cancer have different signatures. Up until now, the scientists have had trouble finding a simple signature that was distinct from healthy cells and common to all cancers – but the team was finally able to identify a unique biomarker that was common in every type of cancer they examined, including prostate, colorectal, lymphoma, and several different forms of breast cancers.
The researchers found that – in a healthy patient – there are tiny molecules called methyl groups that are spread across DNA structures. Since the methyl groups are dramatically affected by the presence of cancer, however, the patterns and clusters of methyl groups will change their formations.
The team then developed a simple tool that could search and identify these pattern changes within a matter of minutes.
"In healthy cells, these methyl groups are spread out across the genome, but the genomes of cancer cells are essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations," said Dr. Laura Carrascosa, one of the University of Queensland researchers involved in the project.
Professor Matt Trau said their team discovered that intense clusters of methyl groups placed in a solution caused cancer DNA fragments to fold into unique three-dimensional nanostructures that could easily be separated by sticking to solid surfaces, such as gold.
"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change color to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present," explained Trau.