This gold liquid can detect cancer in 10 minutes
Identifying cancer is a process both patient and doctor dread, and with good reason. However, the long drawn-out waiting game cancer has had us play could be set for a loss. Researchers at the University of Queensland have just developed a quick and effective test which could bring answers in just ten minutes. This breakthrough discovery could potentially save countless moments for patients and doctors engulfed by the disease.The potentially universal test involves adding a patient’s DNA into a liquid developed by the scientists. Ten minutes later, the liquid changes colour to indicate if the patient has cancerous cells or not.
The Queensland researchers first developed the test when they noticed cancerous DNA and normal DNA stuck to metal surfaces differently. Following this, they showed that healthy cells pattern their DNA with molecules called methyl groups. Methyl groups work a balancing act, altering levels of necessary and superfluous genes appropriately. In cancerous cells, however, there’s no patterning. The methyl levels are found in small clusters at specific locations, and only the genes that contribute to cancer grow.
Importantly, the team showed that different patterns of methyl groups altered how DNA behaves in water, meaning the development of a liquid-based test was possible.
It works by adding the patient’s DNA to water containing tiny gold nanoparticles. These nanoparticles make the water pink. When cancerous DNA is added, it binds with the nanoparticles in a way that causes the water to retain its original colour. However, when DNA from healthy cells is added, the binding is different, and the water turns blue. And that’s it: pink=cancerous, blue=healthy.
According to Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland, “the test is sensitive enough to detect very low levels of cancer DNA in the sample.”
Despite the simplicity of the test, it does fall short in determining the location and type of cancer. However, as Carrascosa explains, “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.”
At the moment, if a doctor suspects that an individual has cancer the patient must undergo invasive treatment to remove a piece of a suspect tissue. Both doctor and patient then have to wait for tests to be conducted prior to confirmation of cancer or not. This is both costly and time-consuming. What’s more, with such a serious matter, patients can suffer further from the stress of waiting.
The Queensland team’s solution overcomes a great deal of these problems. The procedure is both quick and cheap, giving medical institutions a financial break, and patients an all-important speedy answer.
So far, the test has proven a 90% success rate and has managed to work on patients with breast, prostate and colorectal cancer, as well as lymphoma. Such positive results point to this method being applied universally, however, the sample size has only been 200 people so far. The research team are now aiming to take it to clinical testing.
Lead researcher Matt Trau wishes to tread carefully before making such claims, but seems positive, stating “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 inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing”
The liquid’s successes are already apparent, regardless of whether it can identify type or location of cancer. Even at this stage, there’s a potential to create a universally accessible test for cancer, and that’s groundbreaking. However, with the potential scaling of the liquid to surpass this function, it’s worth its weight in gold – literally.