The technology has proven to be up to 90 per cent accurate in tests involving 200 human cancer samples and normal DNA.
The researchers explained that they developed the technology after observing that different chemical patterns on DNA altered its ability to interact with metals, such as gold.
Professor Trau said 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.
So the researchers focused on DNA that circulates in the bloodstream after cancer cells die and release their cargo. Though made of gold, the particles turn the water pink. These groups act as switches that switch the genes on and off and are called epigenomes. This modification prevents certain genes from being expressed.
Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the Queensland team described a series of tests that confirmed the telltale pattern of methyl groups in breast, prostate and colorectal cancer as well as lymphoma.
Gold nanoparticles produced by laser ablation in heavy water. He said, "We never thought this would be possible, because cancer is so complicated".
Chemistry Professor and research associate Matt Trau 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 for cancer, and as an accessible and low-cost technology that doesn't require complicated lab-based equipment like DNA sequencing".
Dr Gray, who studies the cancer biomarkers of melanoma, said more work was needed to determine if the test would be useful as a screening tool. The procedure is invasive and relies on the patient noticing a lump, or reporting symptoms that their GP recognises as a potential sign of cancer. Among the cancer cells they noted that the methyl groups are in clusters at specific regions.
"If it's very sensitive, we could use it for early diagnosis of cancer ... especially for cancers where there is no screening paradigm, like ovarian and pancreatic", she said. "This could be done in conjunction with other tests and the combined information may give us a lot of ideas of where the cancer is and the stage".
These instantly change color depending on whether the 3D nanostructures of cancer DNA are present.
It is hoped that the new test will eventually be performed at the same time as routine blood tests, such as a cholesterol check - or even using a mobile phone app.
"This test could be done in combination with other simple tests, and become a powerful diagnostic tool that could not just say that you have cancer, but also the type and stage", said Carrascosa.