Scientists at the University of Queensland in Australia have been working to find a cancer test that will detect cancer sooner, allowing patients to begin treatment earlier and improve their prognosis. This is particularly influential for rare cancers like malignant mesothelioma that are difficult to detect. Early detection is the best way to improve mesothelioma prognosis, stressing the need to find better diagnostic tools.
In a recent study, researchers found unique behavior of cancer cells when placed in water mixed with gold particles, behavior that could detect many different types of cancer, including mesothelioma.
Analyzing the Relationship Between DNA and Cancer
It’s well-known that cancer alters the DNA of healthy cells, so looking at how these alterations occur can help researchers find connections between certain behaviors and the presence of malignancy. Recently, researchers found success with a cancer test that looks specifically at alterations in the methyl molecule groups in DNA.
Methyl groups are groups of molecules that are added or removed from proteins and acids, playing a significant role in how they act within the body. When they are added or taken away, the groups actually switch genes on or off.
Typically, methyl groups are spread out throughout the entire genome, but in cancer cells, they are in clusters. This test is designed specifically to look for those types of clusters in DNA and analyze their behavior. Methyl has been looked at before in various cancer studies, but not at how it reacts in a substance like water.
Cancerous vs. Healthy DNA Behavior
When placed in water, DNA affected by cancer folded into three-dimensional structures, while healthy DNA did not fold. Furthermore, gold particles were added to the water solution. Gold particles are often used in lab tests to differentiate molecules, and studies have found that cancer cells in particular have a strong affinity towards gold.
Scientists used the gold particle strategy in this test to find that malignant DNA would bind or “stick” to the gold after folding. Though analysis was done under a high-resolution microscope, combining purified DNA with the gold mixture even created visible color changes that could be detected by the naked eye in under five minutes. Though made of gold, the water turns pink when DNA is added. If DNA from cancer cells is used, the water retains its original coloring, but if healthy DNA is added, binding occurs differently and the water turns blue. The test has proved to be sensitive enough to show visible color changes with samples containing very low levels of cancer DNA.
Emerging Success Rates and Diagnostic Potential
There are many benefits surrounding the new test, including its convenience. A bodily sample such as a tissue sample or blood sample is used, which is minimally or non-invasive. There is then less risk to the patient, it’s less costly, and a hospital stay isn’t required. Complicated laboratory equipment and practices like gene sequencing aren’t required, which is also a much quicker and cheaper alternative to other diagnostic tests.
Another benefit is the test’s proposed effectiveness. In terms of success rates, the test was used on more than 200 blood and tissue samples and demonstrated a 90% accuracy rate. This is also achieved much quicker than with other tests, taking only around 10 minutes. So far, the test was able to successfully detect breast cancer, prostate cancer, bowel cancer, and lymphoma cancers. However, the researchers are extremely confident that the results can be replicated across other diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma, since methylation patterns are very similar across cancers.
The idea of a universal cancer test is promising for doctors, as it could potentially allow them to screen for several different types of diseases with one quick, non-invasive test. For aggressive cancers like malignant mesothelioma, the quick test could make a huge difference in offering patients a confirmed diagnosis and the ability to begin treatment right away, without having to go through weeks or months of testing.
Early detection is difficult for mesothelioma, especially since it can take decades for symptoms to develop. However, blood tests and biomarkers offer hope that the disease can be detected early before it has spread. So far, some have shown success, but none as quickly as this test, which could be especially helpful for patients with a known history of asbestos exposure.
Next Steps for the 10-Minute Cancer Test
So far the test has not been used on humans, but the strong success rate has left scientists confident. Next steps are to organize clinical trials, where the diagnostic tool can be tested on humans with different types of cancers and diseases.
The scientists’ have many different goals moving forward with the cancer test. They want to confirm the test’s success on humans and successfully replicate the results across different diagnoses. They hope to run the test on other bodily samples and to find success in identifying malignancy both in early and late stages of cancer. Considerations have also emerged that the test may be able to not just diagnose cancer, but show how cancers respond to treatment, allowing doctors to quickly and easily assess treatment responses.