Universal Cancer Test: One Test to Diagnose Them All?

Universal Cancer Test: One Test to Diagnose Them All?

"Because cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease, it has been hard to find a simple signature common to all cancers, yet distinct from healthy cells", Abu Sina, a researcher at the Institute, said in a statement.

Prof Trau said the results "stunned" them and they realized that this was a "general feature for all cancer".

Mr Eccles of Otago University suggested thinking of DNA as beads on a string when visualising how the test works. "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 cheap technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Trau said.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Queensland team described a series of tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma.

"The levels and patterns of tiny molecules called methyl groups that decorate DNA are altered dramatically by cancer - these methyl groups are key for cells to control which genes are turned on and off", said Sina.

By comparison, the epigenetic methyl groups on DNA from healthy cells-dubbed methylscape by the researcher and help regulate gene expression-are typically spread out across the genome and don't cause the same folding.

"We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection".

The test they've developed involves extracting purified DNA from blood or tissue and then adding it to a gold particle solution to see how well it binds.

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It has shown to be up to 90% accurate in tests of 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, they said, though it has not been tested in a clinical trial.

At this stage, the test can only detect the presence of cancer cells, not their type or the stage of the disease.

The technology, however, requires further development as it can now only determine the presence of cancer, but not the disease type or stage.

"The gold standard is the biopsy, and I think that will still have to be done", he said. Even better, the test works on circulating free DNA, molecular fragments that drift through easily obtained body fluids.

While further research and development is still underway, the procedure is expected to open new corollaries of screening methods.

Whether the biomarker is indeed common to all cancers also remains unclear, Dr Gray 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 an accessible and affordable technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Professor Trau said.

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