"So we were very excited about an easy way of catching these circulating free cancer DNA signatures in blood", he said.
The researchers acknowledged that their test needs further study, "but it looks really interesting as an incredibly simple "universal marker" of cancer", Trau said in the statement.
"We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated", said Professor Trau, whose paper is published today in the journal Nature Communications.
Co-author Dr. Abu Sina said: "Because cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease, it has been hard to find a simple signature common to all cancers, yet distinct from healthy cells".
It appeared in every type of breast cancer they examined and other forms of the disease including prostate and bowel cancer, as well as the blood cancer lymphoma.
Trau explained: "It seems to be a general feature for all cancer". If DNA from cancer cells is then added, it sticks to the nanoparticles in such a way that the water retains its original colour.
For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA. In cancer cells, this patterning is hijacked so that only genes that help the cancer grow are switched on.
The DNA in cancer cells can be riddled with mutations that drive the growth of a specific tumour, but these mutations tend to differ depending on the type of cancer. Specifically, cancer DNA has clusters of methyl groups at specific locations and nearly no methylation elsewhere, while normal DNA's methyl groups are more evenly spread out across the entire genome.
Australian researchers have found that cells containing cancer could soon be detected using a simple test.
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The discovery was made by a medical research team in Queensland.
The gold nanoparticles were contained in a solution which turned from a reddish colour to blue if healthy cells were detected but stayed the same colour in the presence of cancer cells. Professor Trau said that the next step would be to start clinical trials to hone the test.
"You can compare that with some of our frontline cancer detection techniques", he said. The test could one day change how cancers are diagnosed, the team says.
The study was funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation and was supported by University of Queensland's commercialisation company UniQuest which is helping develop the technology. Researchers have been looking for a less invasive diagnostic test that can detect cancers at an earlier stage.
While further research and development is still underway, the procedure is expected to open new corollaries of screening methods.
"Like all good science, it raises a lot more questions", she said.
Co-author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, said: '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 a very accessible and cheap technology'.
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