Cancer DNA Binds To Gold

Rachael Rettner, a senior writer for Live Science released a new article that suggests a lead to a new cancer blood test. The researchers have discovered an unusual difference between the DNA from cancer cells and those from healthy cells that could lead to the new test.

The Cancer DNA has a strong affinity for gold, regardless of the type of cancer.  Gold nanoparticles have been designed to detect cancer. They change color depending on whether or not the cancer DNA is present. This simple and fast test could detect cancer in just 10 minutes, according to the study which was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Study senior author Matt Trau is a professor and senior group leader at the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology who said that you can detect it by eye. This preliminary work needs much more research before the test is useful for patients.

The epigenome, or chemical modifications to DNA that turn genes on or off ,was the study focus. The DNA sequence is not changed by the modification but affects how cells read the genes. The modification prevents certain genes from being expressed.

The pattern of DNA methylation in cancer cells differs from that in healthy cells, as cancer DNA has clusters of methyl groups at certain locations and almost no methylation elsewhere. The white normal DNA’s methyl groups are evenly spread across the entire genome, of which this pattern is called methylation landscape or methylscape.

Dr. Jeffrey Weber is the deputy director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center at New York University’s Langone Health who has applauded the idea of looking for a way to detect the cancer DNA methylscape. He was not involved in the study but added larger studies are needed to evaluate the accuracy of the test and if it could be useful for patients, compared with existing tests. It will take a lot of work to turn this type of test into a real, clinically useful test.

Joyce Ohm is an associate professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York who agrees the work is an exciting potential advance in looking for an epigenetic biomarker for cancer.

Only the presence of cancer is currently detected by the test and not the type of cancer.  It’s also unclear how high the levels of cancer DNA need to be for the test to work. The test would be less applicable as a screening test in its current form as it cannot detect the types of cancer, but if the technique is further developed, the most immediate potential application would be monitoring existing cancer patients for disease recurrence.

The test needs further study but looks interesting as an incredibly simple universal marker of cancer and as a very accessible and inexpensive technology that does not require complicated lab equipment like DNA sequencing.


Dr Fredda Branyon