A team of researchers announces the discovery of a unique DNA nanostructure that appears to be common to all cancers. A new test developed then detected the disease at an early stage within a few minutes.
Cancer is extremely complex and variable. Different types of cancer have different signatures. A test that can detect one or the other cancer will not be able to detect another. The key would be to find a common signature for all types of cancer. And this signature, the researchers Abu Sina, Laura Carrascosa and Matt Trau, of the University of Queensland (Australia), have just got their hands on it.
An affinity with gold
A recent study published in the journal Communications of nature reveals that cancer DNA, whatever it is, has a strong affinity for gold. So there is finally something in common. Based on this observation, the researchers then designed a new test loaded with gold particles, capable of changes color depending on the DNA encountered.
"This unique nanoscale DNA signature has appeared in all types of breast cancer we have examined, as well as for other forms of cancer, including prostate, colorectal and lymphoma", explain the researchers, who note in passing that this simple test has been able to detect these different types of cancer in only 10 minutes.
How does it work?
The new study focused here on what the researchers call the "DNA methylation". Methylation is a process that involves the transmission of a methyl group (a carbon atom bound to 3 hydrogen atoms, or CH3) from one molecule to another. Previous research has shown that the DNA methylation pattern in tumor cells differs from that of healthy cells.
Specifically, cancer DNA contains methyl groups in very specific locations, while the methyl groups of normal DNA are distributed more evenly. However, we have not been able to detect this model. This is why the researchers focused here rather than on methylation itself, but on its own impact on the overall structure and chemical properties of cancer DNA.
The researchers then discovered that these epigenetic changes (with a different methylation) bending of DNA fragments of cancer in three-dimensional "nanostructures" with an affinity for gold. For its part, normal DNA bends differently, and therefore does not have the same affinity with the precious metal. Based on this observation, the researchers then developed this new test exploiting the ability of cancer DNA to bind to gold. If the DNA of a cancer is present, then the gold nanoparticles will have a different color only if they are in contact with healthy DNA.
The test only detects the presence of cancer, not the type of cancer. Further research should be performed to refine the technique before considering the first clinical tests. But this test is promising!