Medicine

Australian researchers discover unique cancer biomarker - 05-Dec

Australian researchers discover unique cancer biomarker - 05-Dec

Researchers demonstrated that there is a tell-tale pattern of gene expression in cancer genomes which is not found in healthy genomes, allowing them to spot cancer DNA circulating in the blood.

Senior researcher Matt Trau said it had been hard to find a "simple marker" that would distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones.

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.

"This test could be done in combination with other simple tests, and become a powerful diagnostic tool that could not just say that you have cancer, but also the type and stage", said Carrascosa.

"This unique nano-scaled DNA signature appeared in every type of breast cancer we examined, and in other forms of cancer including prostate, colorectal, and lymphoma", Sina said in the press release.

A normal cell DNA's distinct methyl pattern is crucial to regulating its machinery and maintaining its functions.

"Usually, the approach to find cancer markers ... is to look at the sequence of DNA", Professor Trau said.

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 test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample", she added.

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Using transmission electron microscopy (a high-resolution microscope), we saw that cancerous DNA fragments folded into three-dimensional structures in water.

"It seems that to launch cancer, you have to run a series of genetic apps".

The cheap and simple test uses a colour-changing fluid to reveal the presence of malignant cells anywhere in the body and provides results in less than 10 minutes. This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.

The new diagnostic test demonstrated an accuracy of up to 90 percent when tested on 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, according to the researchers. He said that they initially believed that each cancer would need a separate test for detection.

Now doctors use symptoms and a raft of tests and biopsies to determine if cancer is present which can sometimes take months.

The team was working to further develop the technology and licence with a commercial partner.

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

"The gold standard is the biopsy, and I think that will still have to be done", he said.

It is hoped that the new test will eventually be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check - or even using a mobile phone app.