Melbourne: Scientist of Indian origin with his colleagues at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) has discovered a unique quick test that can detect all types of cancer from blood or biopsy tissues within minutes. The researchers have discovered a nano-scaled DNA signature that appears to be common to all cancers.
The study reveals new insight about how epigenetic reprogramming in cancer regulates the physical and chemical properties of DNA and could lead to an entirely new approach to point-of-care diagnostics. It has appeared in the journal Nature Communications.
Cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease and different types of cancer have different signatures. It had been difficult to find a simple signature that was distinct from healthy cells and common to all cancers.
“Because cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease, it has been difficult to find a simple signature common to all cancers, yet distinct from healthy cells,” explains AIBN researcher Dr Abu Sina.“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,” .“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.
Researchers developed a tool that could look at these pattern changes at the whole genome level within minutes.
“In healthy cells, these methyl groups are spread out across the genome, but the genomes of cancer cells are essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations,” Laura Carrascosa, a professor at the University of Queensland.
The team discovered that intense clusters of methyl groups placed in a solution caused cancer DNA fragments to fold into unique three-dimensional nanostructures that could easily be separated by sticking to solid surfaces such as gold.
“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.
He said cancer cells released their DNA into blood plasma when they died.
“So we were very excited about an easy way of catching these circulating free cancer DNA signatures in blood,” he 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,” said Trau.
The technology has also been adapted for electrochemical systems, which allows inexpensive and portable detection that could eventually be performed using a mobile phone.
So far the new technology has been tested on 200 samples across different types of human cancers, and healthy cells. In some cases, the accuracy of cancer detection runs as high as 90%.It has proved to be up to 90 per cent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.