Researchers have developed a new universal cancer test that can detect cancerous cells in the bloodstream in less than 10 minutes.
The test, currently in development, comes from scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia following their discovery that cancer DNA sticks to metal surfaces differently than non-cancer DNA and forms a unique structure when placed in water, “a huge discovery that no one has grasped before,” researcher Laura Carrascosa told the Guardian. The research was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.
The inexpensive test involves pink-hued water infused with gold nanoparticles that bind with cancer DNA, which “can affect molecular behavior in a way that causes visible color changes,” the researchers wrote for academic research site, the Conversation.
For example, if the test is used on DNA from cancer cells, the water retains its original color because the DNA sticks to the gold nanoparticles.
If the test is used on DNA from healthy cells, the DNA binds to the nanoparticles differently, turning the water blue.
Lead researcher Matt Trau and his Queensland colleagues have measured the accuracy of the 10-minute test on 200 human cancer samples and healthy DNA so far and revealed a high sensitivity of 89.32 percent, meaning the test would be able to detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer.
So far, the test has been used to detect specific cancers, including breast, lymphoma and prostate cancers. Trau and his team believe it can be replicated to detect other cancers as well.
“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 inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing,” Trau told the Guardian.
Detecting cancer today typically involves an invasive procedure and heavily relies on a patient reporting symptoms. While this new universal test may not be able to reveal the location or size of a tumor, it could help spot the existence of cancer earlier.
And if used in tandem with other tests, it may “become a powerful tool that could not just say that you have cancer, but also the type and state,” Carrascosa said.
The next step is to direct clinical studies and determine whether the test can be used to assess the effectiveness of cancer treatment.
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