Blood test to detect cancer within just 10 minutes developed by scientists

Henrietta Brewer
December 8, 2018

The researchers, led by Matt Trau, Ph.D., professor of chemistry at the University of Queensland and deputy director and co-founder of AIBN, examined epigenetic patterns on the genomes of cancer cells and healthy cells.

Healthy cells always make sure they are functioning properly by patterning their DNA with molecules known as methyl groups.

Methyl groups are spread across the genome, but the AIBN team found that cancer cells' genomes often lack methyl groups except for "intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations".

Professor Matt Trau Dr. Abu Sina and Doctor Laura Carrascosa
Professor Matt Trau Dr. Abu Sina and Doctor Laura Carrascosa

The University of Queensland researchers were able to detect cancer cells with 90 per cent accuracy in tissue and blood samples, they noted in the journal Nature Communications. Indeed, this test is so convenient and affordable that in the not-too-distant future we could all be carrying around our own personal cancer detector - on our cell phones. "This is a huge discovery that no one has grasped before", said Carrascosa.

Aside from improving current cancer test procedures, where else do you think this technique could find useful applications? 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.

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.

The new method looks for differences in the genetic code of cancerous and healthy cells, the newspaper said. Even better, the test works on circulating free DNA, molecular fragments that drift through easily obtained body fluids.

It's also attractive "as a very accessible and cheap technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", he said.

For the record, the scientists around the world have been actively working on discovering the ways toward early cancer diagnosis and early detection is said to increase the overall success rate of the surgery or therapeutic treatment.

To test for cancer today, doctors must collect a tissue biopsy from a patient's suspected tumour. It is invasive and relies on the patient noticing a lump, or reporting symptoms that the doctor recognises as a potential sign of cancer.

Elin Gray, a senior cancer researcher at Edith Cowan University, said the research was exciting piece of work that offered "a lot of potential".

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.

At this stage, the test indicates only whether someone has cancer, but can not tell the type of cancer they have or how advanced it is.

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