Australian Researchers Develop 10-Minute Test to Detect Cancer

Henrietta Brewer
December 6, 2018

The paper is published in the journal Nature Communications (DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-07214-w) and included researchers from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, School of Medicine and Diamantina Institute.

The test has a sensitivity of about 90 per cent, meaning it would detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer, with 10 per cent false positives.

Researchers noted that the methyl groups are spread out across the genome in healthy cells, but were present only in particular places in the genome of individuals with cancer.

"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 test also works electrochemically by using flat gold electrodes and small amounts of purified DNA. It detects a simple physical event, a color change or an electrochemical signal, that occurs when cancer-reprogrammed DNA clumps around gold nanoparticles.

The test was made possible by the Queensland team's discovery that cancer DNA and normal DNA stick to metal surfaces in markedly different ways.

"Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood". "The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample", Carrascosa said. Matt Trau, a professor at AIBN who led the research, describes it as like a genetic program or app that the cancerous cell needs in order to function.

The test is offering new hope that all types of the disease can be spotted early when treatment is the most effective, the newspaper said.


According to Dr. Sina, each type of cancer has a different signature, and it can be hard to find a signature that's common to all cancers and different from healthy cells. A universal cancer test would not be precise enough to pinpoint the location or size of a tumour, but would give doctors a swift answer to the question: does this patient have cancer?

"With normal DNA, when you add it to the solution, it can not stabilize this solution, and when you add a small amount of salt, it changes the colour to blue", Dr. Sina explained. Additionally, the research was supported by a National Breast Cancer Foundation grant to advance cancer diagnosis testing.

The test they've developed involves extracting purified DNA from blood or tissue and then adding it to a gold particle solution to see how well it binds. "Further clinical studies are required to evaluate the full clinic potential of the method".


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