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New DNA test uses nanotechnology to find early signs of cancer

earby molecule, which can use the energy to emit a fluorescent glow. This behavior makes the cancer-related DNA strands light up and identify themselves.

In the Johns Hopkins cancer test, the quantum dots have been coated with a chemical that is attracted to biotinone of the two molecules that were attached to the DNA strands. As a result, up to 60 of the targeted DNA strands can stick themselves to a single quantum dot, like arms extending from an octopus. Then, an ultraviolet light or a blue laser is aimed at the sample. The quantum dots grab this energy and immediately transfer it to the fluorescent dyes that were attached earlier to the targeted DNA strands. These dye molecules use the energy to light up.

These signals, also called fluorescence, can be detected by a machine called a spectrophotometer. By analyzing these signals, the researchers can discover not only whether the sample contains the cancer-linked DNA but how much of the DNA methylation is present. Larger amounts can be associated with a higher cancer risk.

"This kind of information could allow a patient with positive methylation to undergo more frequent cancer screening tests. This method could replace the traditionally more invasive ways for obtaining patient samples with a simple blood test," said Vasudev J. Bailey, a biomedical engineering doctoral student from Bangalore, India, who was one of the two lead authors on the Genome Research paper. "It's also important because these test results could possibly help a doctor determine whether a particular cancer treatment is working. It could pave the way for personalized chemotherapy."

In addition, because different types of cancer exhibit distinctive genetic markers, the researchers say the test should be able to identify which specific cancer a patient may be at risk of developing. Markers for lung cancer, for example, are different from markers for leukemia.


Contact: Phil Sneiderman
Johns Hopkins University

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