Medical researchers from Australia released a potential bombshell breakthrough in cancer research this week - outlining in a scientific journal how they have developed a cheap and simple blood test that can detect most if not all types of cancer within 10 minutes.
Currently, the test detects only the presence of cancer, not the type of cancer. Matt Trau, one of the researchers, said that it was hard to find a "simple marker" that could differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells. While the DNA inside normal cells has methyl groups dotted all over it, the DNA inside cancer cells is largely bare, with methyl groups found only in small clusters at specific locations.
Taking advantage of this finding, the researchers designed a new test that uses gold nanoparticles to detect cancer.
While the test is still in development, it draws on a radical new approach to cancer detection that could make routine screening for the disease a simple procedure for doctors.
"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern", he explained.
Helpfully, these molecule clusters fold up into structures which like to stick to gold so can be tested for by using the precious metal.
A blood test could help to diagnose cancer within just ten minutes. He said, "We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated".
It spots tiny amounts of DNA floating through vessels that could only have come from tumors and not from healthy cells. For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA.
"This is a huge discovery that no-one has grasped before", said Laura Carrascosa, a researcher at the University of Queensland.
The types of cancers we tested included breast, prostate, bowel and lymphoma.
The position of these molecules forms part of the epigenome - a set of instructions that controls how genes are expressed. If 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA exist, the gold nanoparticles will instantly change color.
Prof Trau said the results "stunned" them and they realized that this was a "general feature for all cancer".
The test is offering new hope that all types of the disease can be spotted early when treatment is the most effective, the newspaper said.
The scientists tested the technology on 200 human cancer samples and Professor Trau said the accuracy of cancer detection is as high as 90 per cent. Professor Trau said that the next step would be to start clinical trials to hone the test.
Mr Trau of Queensland University acknowledged yesterday that "we certainly don't know yet whether it's the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics".
"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 of cancer, and as an accessible and low-priced technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", Professor Trau said.