Researchers have developed a cheap, simple, and quick test to detect cancer cells in the bloodstream of patients, according to The Guardian. Using a color-changing fluid to detect the presence of malignant cells within ten minutes, the test could give doctors a new ability to identify cancer and act quickly to pursue further testing and treatment, potentially saving lives.
The test is still in development, but could become part of a routine treatment process geared toward treating cancer early.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia found that cancer DNA responds to metal surfaces much differently than normal DNA. This meant that they could use tiny traces of DNA in the bloodstream as a signal for the presence of cancer cells elsewhere in the body.
In testing so far, the test has proven to detect cancer in 90 percent of cases, and the researchers are planning clinical trials with patients with a wider variety of cancer types than they’ve tested for thus far.
“A major advantage of this technique is that it is very cheap and extremely simple to do, so it could be adopted in the clinic quite easily,” according to Laura Carrascosa, one of the researchers. “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 cells take advantage of molecules called methyl groups to help activate genes that help the cancer grow. As a result, the DNA inside cancer cells shows a different, sparser pattern of methyl groups.
The researchers confirmed this pattern in cancers such as breast and prostate cancer, and showed that they lead the DNA to respond differently in water. They used this discovery as the basis for a series of experiments that ultimately led to the new test procedure.
Gold nanoparticles are added to water, followed by the DNA being tested. The gold turns the water pink, and if the added DNA is from cancer cells, the water then turns blue.
“The test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample,” according to Carrascosa.
The researchers ran the test on 200 cancer samples as well as healthy DNA.
Currently, doctors must carry out an invasive procedure to collect a tissue biopsy from a suspected tumor, performed only when a patient notices a lump. The new test could detect cancer much earlier, leading to better outcomes.