Scientists out of the University of Queensland have developed a groundbreaking blood test that can detect cancer in a matter of minutes. They hope this method, of course, will help to spot the disease earlier in its life cycle so doctors can prescribe and administer more effective treatments.
The present methods for detecting cancer, of course, rely mostly on the biopsy. This procedure involves taking a small piece of tissue from specific parts of the body to determine if cancer if present. Not only can this be highly invasive—requiring several medical professionals—it usually takes a week to conduct, and yet more time to analyze the tissue.
Now, it is important to note that 10 minutes versus 1 week is not necessarily a big advantage since cancer is such a slow-developing disease. However, a 10-minute test does mean that a patient and doctor can immediately discuss options instead of having to schedule a follow-up appointment.
The new test, then, looked at genetic coding differences between cancer cells and healthy cells. Indeed, the research team found that cancer cells have DNA that is, apparently, quite fond of nanoparticles of gold. More specifically, cancer DNA has methyl groups that are different from the host, and these mutated methyl groups will populate in one part of the body (as in lung cancer or breast cancer, etc).
Essentially, then, the researchers designed this test with gold nanoparticles that change color when in the presence of these methyl groups, demonstrating the presence of cancer.
So far the test has been administered to 200 confirmed human cancer samples and health human DNA cells with an accuracy rate of 90 percent.
Of course, these results are only preliminary and will require more development to confirm the highest level of accuracy. For example, the University of Queensland team confides that they hope to continue evolving the test so that it will not only determine the presence of cancer cells in the blood but also the type of cancer and its development stage.
Detecting cancer type and development stage is very important because the different types of treatments we have available today are more or less effective depending on these variables. And with the ability to detect cancer at its very earliest, for example, certain lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, nutrition, stopping smoking or drinking or fatty foods, etc) can help to slow the progression so as to avoid expensive medical treatments altogether.