Posted on Dec 05, 2018, 10 p.m.
Scientists from the University of Queensland are working on developing a procedure that shows whether a patient has cancerous cells in the bloodstream, as published in the journal Nature Communications.
In an approach that is still under development colour changing fluid reveals presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body, providing results in less than 10 minutes, in a manner that draws on new radical approaches to cancer detection that may make routine screening for cancer a more simple procedure for doctors.
The screening tool has a sensitivity of around 90%, meaning it can detect about 90 in 100 cases of cancer, and serves as an initial quick and cheap check for cancer that doctors could follow up positive results with more focused and detailed investigations to identify cancer type and stage.
Relatively inexpensive and simple testing was made possible due to the team’s discovery of cancer DNA and normal DNA sticking to metal surfaces in very different ways, allowing development of a test which can distinguish between healthy cells and those that are cancerous, even from tiny traces of DNA that find their way into the bloodstream.
Healthy cells function properly by patterning their DNA with methyl molecules groups working like volume controls to silence genes not needed and turning up ones that are; cancer cells hijack this patterning so that only genes helping them to grow are switched on. DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over; inside cancer cells it is largely bare with methyl groups found in small clusters in specific locations.
The team conducted a series of tests to confirm the patterns of methyl groups in lymphoma, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancer; then showed these patterns had impact on DNA chemistry making normal and cancer DNA behave differently in water. After a series of tests the team hit on the new test for cancer: suspected DNA is added to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles that turn the water pink; if cancer cell DNA is added it sticks to the nanoparticles in a manner that the water retains original colour, if health cell DNA is added it binds differently turning the water blue.
The team has run the test in 200 human cancer samples and healthy DNA, and are now working towards clinical trials with patients having a broader range of cancer types then what has been tested thus far to evaluate full clinical potential.
Less invasive diagnostic procedures such as this with potential to spot cancer earlier could transform how patients are screened for cancer. Although not precise enough to pinpoint locations, stage, or size of a tumour it would give a swift answer to whether the patient has cancer or not within a few minutes, when combined with other tests this could become a powerful diagnostic tool to determine type, location and stage. This represents a step forward in detecting tumor DNA in samples and opens new paths for the possibility or generalized blood based cancer testing.
Materials provided by:
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.