Ged Brady, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute said: "This approach represents an exciting step forward in detecting tumor DNA in blood samples and opens up the possibility of a generalized blood-based test to detect cancer".
The team noticed that in cancer cells, methyl groups were clustered at certain positions on the genome - a stark contrast to healthy cells where the groups are dispersed throughout.
Taking a different tack, he and his colleagues looked instead at patterns of molecules called methyl groups, which decorate the DNA and control which genes are switched on and off.
The test also works electrochemically by using flat gold electrodes and small amounts of purified DNA.
"We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change colour to determine if the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present", said Matt Trau, a professor a University of Queensland. However, the AIBN team discovered that the genome of a cancer cell is essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations.
They used the test on more than 200 tissue and blood samples and found that it was 90 percent accurate in detecting cancerous cells, CNN reported.
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The researchers explained that they developed the technology after observing that different chemical patterns on DNA altered its ability to interact with metals, such as gold. But if DNA from healthy cells is added, the DNA binds to the particles differently, and turns the water blue.
"So we were very excited about an easy way of catching these circulating free cancer DNA signatures in blood", he said.
Co-author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, said: '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 of cancer, and as a very accessible and low-cost technology'.
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.
"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. She said, "Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have a cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage".
Cancer blood tests became possible after scientists realised the importance of DNA released when cancer cells die, which is carried in the bloodstream.
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