Specifically, the researchers looked for patterns of molecules, called methyl groups, which decorate the DNA.
Those specific structures can then be separated from the solution by sticking them to bare metal surfaces such as gold, the researchers found. Sign up today to get biotech news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.
The scientists from the University of Queensland's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology designed the simple, quick and low-cost test based on a unique chemical signature that appears common to all types of cancer.
The development was made possible after they discovered that placing the cancerous DNA in a solution caused it to fold up into 3D structures.
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.
Scientists have developed a universal cancer detection test that traces infectious presence in the bloodstream, the Guardian reported on Wednesday. Even so, the researchers managed to identify a unique DNA nanostructure which is common to all types of cancer.
The next step for the test will be validating it with tests on more cancer patients "to make sure that it actually stands up", followed by clinical trials that could take years, he said.
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Lead author Dr Abu Ali Ibn Sina, from the University of Queensland's Centre for Personalised Nanomedicine, said: 'This discovery could be a game-changer in point of care cancer diagnostics'.
The research has been supported by a grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
The test has a sensitivity of about 90%, and this means that it would be able to detect about 90 cases of cancer from 100.
Our test also uses circulating cancer DNA but involves a different detection method.
"This happens in one drop of fluid, ' said Professor Matt Trau, one of the study's researchers, adding that researchers are still unsure if the test will emerge as the "holy grail" for cancer diagnostics".
An MRI scan is the most often used method of cancer detection, but it tends to miss small tumors and only works to confirm a diagnosis when it is often too late to start treatment.
It's also attractive "as a very accessible and affordable technology that does not require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing", he said. The only way to find out if there are risky cells in our bodies is by running periodically tests and going to see the doctor as soon as we are experiencing unusual health issues.