10-minute Cancer Test Developed


Scientists in Australia have developed a blood test that can detect cancer in 10 minutes.

The test looks at the genetic code of cells in the body and could lead to some types of cancer being picked up earlier.

Blood samples

Researchers from the University of Queensland tested blood samples from 100 patients with breast and bowel cancer, and compared them to blood samples taken from 45 people without cancer.

They found that there were differences between the DNA of cancer cells and that of healthy cells. The differences were down to molecules called methyl groups. These spread evenly across the DNA in healthy cells, but in cancer cells they were found to form clusters.

Water test

Following a series of experiments, the researchers found that when DNA from healthy cells is added to water that contains gold nanoparticles, the particles change colour to blue. When DNA from cancer cells are added, the water stays the same colour.

Finding out that normal and cancer DNA behave differently in water meant that the researchers could develop a test that distinguishes between healthy cells and cancerous cells, using DNA in the bloodstream.

Initial check for cancer

The test can’t tell where the cancer is in the body, or how advanced it is, but it can give an early warning to doctors that more detailed tests are needed.

The accuracy of the test was around 90%. It could potentially become an initial check for cancer, with a positive result leading to the patient having further diagnostic tests and investigations.

Cancer diagnostics

The results of the research were published in the journal Nature Communications. Dr Matt Trau, one of the researchers, said: “Our approach enabled non-invasive cancer detection, i.e. a blood test, in 10 minutes, from plasma derived DNA samples with excellent specificity. We believe that this simple approach would potentially be a better alternative to the current techniques for cancer detection.”

Currently, doctors test for cancer by doing a tissue biopsy from the suspected tumour.

Dr Trau 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 for cancer, and as an accessible and inexpensive technology that doesn’t require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing.”

The next step is to use the test on people with different types of cancer, and to carry out clinical trials.


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