Researchers at University of Queensland in Australia have created a new diagnostic test that can identify the presence of a tumour in the body based on a unique, DNA nanostructure that appears to be common to all types of cancer.

The new test is designed to easily, non-invasively detect cancer from blood or biopsy tissue within ten minutes by analysing methyl group changes at a whole genome level.

“Based on the discovery, the researchers designed a test using gold nanoparticles that change colour in presence of the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA.”

Methyl groups, which are tiny molecules on DNA, were found to be significantly altered in cancer patients. The team observed that the methyl groups are spread out across the genome in healthy cells but were present only at specific places on cancer genomes.

Based on the discovery, the researchers designed a test using gold nanoparticles that change colour in presence of the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA.

University of Queensland professor Matt Trau said: “Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood.

“This led to the creation of inexpensive and portable detection devices that could eventually be used as a diagnostic tool, possibly with a mobile phone.”

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When tested in 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA, the new diagnostic test is said to have demonstrated an accuracy of up to 90%.

Trau added: “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 inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing.”

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

University of Queensland team partnered with its commercialisation company UniQuest on further development and licensing of the technology.