A simple blood test has been developed that can diagnose cancer in just 10 minutes.
At this stage, the test can only detect the presence of cancer cells, not their type or the stage of the disease. Matt Trau, one of the researchers, said that it was hard to find a "simple marker" that could differentiate between cancer cells and healthy cells.
Almost every cell in a person's body has the same DNA, but studies have found that cancer's progression causes this DNA to undergo considerable reprogramming.
Ged Brady, from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute said: "This approach represents an exciting step forward in detecting tumor DNA in blood samples and opens up the possibility of a generalized blood-based test to detect cancer".
"Virtually every piece of cancerous DNA we examined had this highly predictable pattern", he explained.
While he can see a future where these tests could be commonplace, Mr Eccles said he thinks they will be used in conjunction with existing tests.
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So, the researchers developed a test that exploits this ability of cancer DNA to stick to gold.
Previous research has shown that the pattern of DNA methylation in cancer cells differs from that in healthy cells. The team then noted that this novel marker was present in all types of breast cancer, colorectal or bowel cancer, prostate cancer and lymphomas. For this test, he said, they looked at patterns of methyl groups over the DNA. They are instructions that control the expressions of the genes.
These instantly change color depending on whether the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present.
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'.
Trau said: "This happens in one drop of fluid". This changes the colour of the solution containing the nanoparticles and this change can be detected with the "naked eye" said Trau.
The scientists tested the technology on 200 human cancer samples and Professor Trau said the accuracy of cancer detection is as high as 90 per cent. She said, "Our technique could be a screening tool to inform clinicians that a patient may have a cancer, but they would require subsequent tests with other techniques to identify the cancer type and stage".
Mr Trau of Queensland University acknowledged yesterday that "we certainly don't know yet whether it's the holy grail for all cancer diagnostics".
Co-author Professor Matt Trau, from the University of Queensland, 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 of cancer, and as a very accessible and affordable technology'.