Cancer prognosis can be significantly improved by early detection. With this in mind, research continues to uncover ways to identify the deadly condition promptly. Now, a new study has designed an approach that could enable early diagnosis of the deadly condition.
Engineers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have designed a new approach that can help detect cancer early through a simple test.
They invented a nanoparticle sensor which can identify many different cancerous proteins.
For several years, the research team has been developing “synthetic biomarkers” that could be used to pick up the deadly condition.
Their work draws on the concept of detecting cancer biomarkers, such as proteins or circulating tumour cells, in a patient’s blood sample.
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While naturally occurring biomarkers are so rare that it’s nearly impossible to find them, the synthetic kind can be used to amplify smaller-scale changes that occur within small tumours.
In previous work, the team managed to create nanoparticles that can detect the activity of enzymes called proteases, which help cancer cells to escape their original locations.
The nanoparticles are coated with peptides that are cleaved by different proteases.
Once they are released into the bloodstream, they can then be concentrated and more easily detected in a urine sample.
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The researchers designed their test so that it can be performed using a strip of paper, similar to an at-home Covid test.
Sangeeta Bhatia, the senior author of the paper, said: “We are trying to innovate in a context of making technology available to low- and middle-resource settings.
“Putting this diagnostic on paper is part of our goal of democratising diagnostics and creating inexpensive technologies that can give you a fast answer at the point of care.”
Looking at mice, the researchers showed that a panel of five DNA barcodes could accurately distinguish tumours that first arose in the lungs from tumours formed by colorectal cancer cells that had metastasised to the lungs.
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“Our goal here is to build up disease signatures and to see whether we can use these barcoded panels not only to read out a disease but also to classify a disease or distinguish different cancer types,” Liangliang Hao, the lead author of the study, added.
For use in humans, the research team expects that they may need to use more than five barcodes because there is so much variety between patients’ tumours.
To reach this goal, they partnered up with researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to create a microfluidic chip that can be used to read up to 46 different DNA barcodes from one sample.
This kind of testing could be used not only for detecting cancer, but also for measuring how well a patient’s tumour responds to treatment.
The team is now working on further developing the particles with the goal of testing them in humans next.
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