Real progress in the defeat of cancer will emerge from mechanisms that are common to near all cancers. Given a signature, or a required mechanism, that appears universally in cancer, then it should be possible to craft a single form of treatment that can be applied to any cancer type. That the enormous and massively funded cancer research community has struggled to make progress towards the control of cancer in the present environment of revolutionary progress in the tools of biotechnology largely results from spending too much time and too many resources on technologies that are only narrowly applicable to certain types of cancer. There are hundreds of subtypes of cancer, and only so many research groups with the resources to spend the years needed to build a new therapy. A change of focus is required. Fortunately, a number of candidate mechanisms for means to control most or all forms of cancer do in fact exist, such as the fact that all cancer cells must abuse telomerase or alternative lengthening of telomeres in order to replicate without limit. There are initial signs of others, with the research here being an example of the type.
A quick and easy test to detect cancer from blood or biopsy tissue could eventually result in a new approach to patient diagnosis. Researches have discovered a unique DNA nanostructure that appears to be common to all cancers. Cancer is an extremely complicated and variable disease and different types of cancer have different signatures. It has been difficult to find a simple signature that was distinct from healthy cells and common to all cancers. "This unique nano-scaled DNA signature appeared in every type of breast cancer we examined, and in other forms of cancer including prostate, colorectal, and lymphoma. The levels and patterns of tiny molecules called methyl groups that decorate DNA are altered dramatically by cancer - these methyl groups are key for cells to control which genes are turned on and off. In healthy cells, these methyl groups are spread out across the genome, but the genomes of cancer cells are essentially barren except for intense clusters of methyl groups at very specific locations."
The team discovered that intense clusters of methyl groups placed in a solution caused cancer DNA fragments to fold into unique three-dimensional nanostructures that could easily be separated by sticking to solid surfaces such as gold. Cancer cells released their DNA into blood plasma when they died. "So we were very excited about an easy way of catching these circulating free cancer DNA signatures in blood. Discovering that cancerous DNA molecules formed entirely different 3D nanostructures from normal circulating DNA was a breakthrough that has enabled an entirely new approach to detect cancer non-invasively in any tissue type including blood. This led to the creation of inexpensive and portable detection devices." The new technology has proved to be up to 90 percent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.