Researchers develop test to detect cancers in 10 minutes

Researchers in Australia have developed a test that could one day detect different kinds of cancer in less than 10 minutes.

The test, developed by Dr. Abu Sina, Dr. Laura Carrascosa and Professor Matt Trau at the University of Queensland, and described in a study in Nature Communications, looks at a seemingly common DNA signature for cancers — their methylation landscape, or “methylscape.”

To understand how the test works, Dr. Sina says to think of DNA as a Christmas tree, and the methyl groups on its surface as the ornaments on the tree.

“In normal DNA, you’ll have densely populated balls on the tree,” he told CTV News Channel. “In cancer progressions, these balls move away and then you will have a few clusters only on that tree.”

The researchers discovered that the cancer cells with the sparse methyl groups on their DNA bind easily with gold surfaces.

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.

“With normal DNA, when you add it to the solution, it cannot stabilize this solution, and when you add a small amount of salt, it changes the colour to blue,” Dr. Sina explained.

“When you have a blue colour on the solution, it means you’re safe, you have no cancer,” he said. “If you have a pink colour, it means you’re positive.”

Dr. Sina said this “simple test” could be used by a primary care physician. He clarified that although it takes less than 10 minutes to know if the solution has stabilized, the DNA extraction itself can still takes hours.

He also cautioned that the test’s 90 per cent success rate involved only 200 blood and tissue samples, so a much larger clinical trial will be needed to determine whether that success rate holds up.

However, Dr. Sina is optimistic.

“If everything goes right, we believe it could go to clinics within a few years,” he said.