This could be one of the most important discoveries in a long time. A blood test by a simple finger prick can be used to diagnose cancer, say scientists who have developed a new technology to detect biomarkers of disease in the form of nucleic acids, the building blocks of all living organisms. nucleic acids are strings or sequences of bases ranging from a few million elements long. The exact order in which these bases are found, even for short distances, is strongly linked to their functions and thus can serve as direct indicators of what is happening inside the cells and tissues.
For example, a family of these nucleic acids called microRNAs is only about 20 bases long, but may indicate a wide range of diseases, including cancer. In the new technique, nanotechnology is used to determine the existence of a sequence of specific target nucleic acid in a mixture and quantify if not by a simple electronic signature.
"If the movie you are looking for is there, it forms a double helix with a probe we provide and you see a clear signal. If the sequence is not there, then there is not any signal," said Adam R Hall of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in the US. "By simply counting the number of signals you can determine how the target is around," said m. Lobby.
In the study, the researchers first demonstrated the technology could effectively identify a specific sequence between competing background nucleic acids and then applied their technique to a particular microRNA (mid-R155) known to indicate a lung cancer in humans.
They showed that the approach could solve the minimal amount of microRNAs that are found in patients. "We see it as a first line diagnostic and noninvasive potential to detect anything from cancer to Ebola," said m. Lobby. "While we are certainly in the early stages of the technology, subsequently we could perform the test using a few drops of blood from a simple finger prick," said m. Lobby. The results were published in the journal Nano Letters.