Cancer DNA Binds To Gold
Researchers have discovered a curious difference between the DNA from cancer cells and that from healthy cells, and this finding could lead to a new blood test for cancer.
Cancer DNA has a rather strong affinity for gold, according to a new study. This feature appears to be common to cancer DNA in general, regardless of the type of cancer, the researchers said.
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The researchers designed a new test that uses gold nanoparticles to detect cancer. The gold particles change color depending on whether or not cancer DNA is present. The result was a simple and fast test that could detect cancer in just 10 minutes, according to the study, published in (Dec. 4) in the journal Nature Communications.
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“You can detect it by eye — it’s as simple as that,” study senior author Matt Trau, a professor and senior group leader at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said in a statement.
Cancer DNA “methylscape”
The new study focused on the “epigenome,” or chemical modifications to DNA that turn genes “on” or “off.” These modifications do not change the DNA sequence, but instead affect how cells “read” genes. One example of an epigenetic change is DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group, or a “chemical cap,” to part of the DNA molecule. This modification prevents certain genes from being expressed.
Previous research has shown that the pattern of DNA methylation in cancer cells differs from that in healthy cells. Specifically, cancer DNA has clusters of methyl groups at specific locations and almost no methylation elsewhere, while normal DNA’s methyl groups are more evenly spread out across the entire genome. The researchers called this methylation pattern the “methylation landscape,” or “methylscape.”
So, the researchers developed a test that exploits this ability of cancer DNA to stick to gold. If cancer DNA is present, the gold nanoparticles will turn a different color than if cancer DNA is not present. The test can use “circulating free DNA,” or DNA released into the blood from cancer or healthy cells.
The researchers have tested their technology on about 200 samples from cancer patients and healthy people, finding that the test was up to 90 percent accurate in detecting cancer.