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Australian researchers have developed a test that can detect cancer cells in 10 minutes

A quick and easy test devised by scientists from the University of Queensland could transform cancer diagnosis as we know it.

Cancer is a difficult disease to diagnose because different types are characterised by different signatures. Until now, scientists have been unable to find a unique signature common to all forms of cancer that would set it apart from healthy cells.

That’s what University of Queensland researchers Dr Laura Carrascosa, Dr Abu Sina and Professor Matt Trau have addressed. They have discovered a unique DNA nanostructure that seems to be common to all types of cancer and is visible when cancer cells are placed in water.

“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,” explained Dr Abu Sina.

The Aussie team has come up with a new technology that proved to be up to 90 per cent accurate in tests that involved 200 human cancer samples mixed with normal DNA. Although it still has to go through a litany of clinical trials before it can be used on patients, the results so far are a cause for celebration.

“We designed a simple test using gold nanoparticles that instantly change colour to determine if the 3D nano-structures of cancer DNA are present,” explains co-author of the study Professor Matt Trau.

“Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nano-structures 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.”

Researchers have even suggested that their portable technology can be adapted to a mobile phone.

“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 next step is to stage clinical studies and measure the effectiveness of the new technology. The team is currently working with UniQuest, the University of Queensland’s commercialisation company, to further develop the tech and eventually licence it for commercial use.

Their study was published last week in the journal Nature Communications.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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