Gold reveals cancer

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Today, doctors cannot make a simple test for cancer in the entire body, but in the future, a blood sample with gold particles might be enough to spot the killer early.

Today, doctors must take a series of steps to make a cancer diagnosis, rather than carry out a quick, general test which covers the entire body. But they may be able to one day – based on gold. Scientists from the University of Queensland have discovered that gold nanoparticles bind to cancer cell DNA. All body cells send tiny DNA fragments into the bloodstream, so a simple blood sample would be sufficient to reveal the presence of cancer cells. The explanation is that our DNA strands, which include the genes, are also lined with other molecules such as methyl.

These molecules determine how active the individual genes are. In normal cells, methyl is evenly distributed along a DNA strand, but in cancer cells, the molecules clump together. The lumps make cancer DNA fold more loosely than DNA from healthy cells, allowing gold particles to bind to methyl. So, the cancer DNA attracts many gold particles, which can easily be observed in a microscope. Scientists tested the gold method on 200 people, of whom some had cancer. In about 90 % of the cases, the cancer was revealed. The method will not be used for some time to come, and it will probably first be employed to see if cancer has returned in patients, who have already undergone treatment.

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