Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
Genotyping & Gene Expression
Scientific Community
Become a Member | Sign in
Home>News>This Article

New Technology May Enable Earlier Cancer Diagnosis

Published: Friday, December 21, 2012
Last Updated: Friday, December 21, 2012
Bookmark and Share
Nanoparticles amplify tumor signals, making them much easier to detect in the urine.

Finding ways to diagnose cancer earlier could greatly improve the chances of survival for many patients. One way to do this is to look for specific proteins secreted by cancer cells, which circulate in the bloodstream. However, the quantity of these biomarkers is so low that detecting them has proven difficult.

A new technology developed at MIT may help to make biomarker detection much easier. The researchers, led by Sangeeta Bhatia, have developed nanoparticles that can home to a tumor and interact with cancer proteins to produce thousands of biomarkers, which can then be easily detected in the patient’s urine.

This biomarker amplification system could also be used to monitor disease progression and track how tumors respond to treatment, says Bhatia, the John and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT.

“There’s a desperate search for biomarkers, for early detection or disease prognosis, or looking at how the body responds to therapy,” says Bhatia, who is also a member of MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. She adds that the search has been complicated because genomic studies have revealed that many cancers, such as breast cancer, are actually groups of several diseases with different genetic signatures.

The MIT team, working with researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, described the new technology in a paper appearing in Nature Biotechnology on Dec. 16. Lead author of the paper is Gabriel Kwong, a postdoc in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and the Koch Institute.

Amplifying cancer signals

Cancer cells produce many proteins not found in healthy cells. However, these proteins are often so diluted in the bloodstream that they are nearly impossible to identify. A recent study from Stanford University researchers found that even using the best existing biomarkers for ovarian cancer, and the best technology to detect them, an ovarian tumor would not be found until eight to 10 years after it formed.

“The cell is making biomarkers, but it has limited production capacity,” Bhatia says. “That’s when we had this ‘aha’ moment: What if you could deliver something that could amplify that signal?”

Serendipitously, Bhatia’s lab was already working on nanoparticles that could be put to use detecting cancer biomarkers. Originally intended as imaging agents for tumors, the particles interact with enzymes known as proteases, which cleave proteins into smaller fragments.

Cancer cells often produce large quantities of proteases known as MMPs. These proteases help cancer cells escape their original locations and spread uncontrollably by cutting through proteins of the extracellular matrix, which normally holds cells in place.

The researchers coated their nanoparticles with peptides (short protein fragments) targeted by several of the MMP proteases. The treated nanoparticles accumulate at tumor sites, making their way through the leaky blood vessels that typically surround tumors. There, the proteases cleave hundreds of peptides from the nanoparticles, releasing them into the bloodstream.

The peptides rapidly accumulate in the kidneys and are excreted in the urine, where they can be detected using mass spectrometry.

This new system is an exciting approach to overcoming the problem of biomarker scarcity in the body, says Sanjiv Gambhir, chairman of the Department of Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Instead of being dependent on the body to naturally shed biomarkers, you’re sampling the site of interest and causing biomarkers that you engineered to be released,” says Gambhir, who was not part of the research team.

Distinctive signatures

To make the biomarker readings as precise as possible, the researchers designed their particles to express 10 different peptides, each of which is cleaved by a different one of the dozens of MMP proteases. Each of these peptides is a different size, making it possible to distinguish them with mass spectrometry. This should allow researchers to identify distinct signatures associated with different types of tumors.

In this study, the researchers tested their nanoparticles’ ability to detect the early stages of colorectal cancer in mice, and to monitor the progression of liver fibrosis.

Liver fibrosis is an accumulation of scarring in response to liver injury or chronic liver disease. Patients with this condition have to be regularly monitored by biopsy, which is expensive and invasive, to make sure they are getting the right treatment. In mice, the researchers found that the nanoparticles could offer much more rapid feedback than biopsies.

They also found that the nanoparticles could accurately reveal the early formation of colorectal tumors. In ongoing studies, the team is studying the particles’ ability to measure tumor response to chemotherapy and to detect metastasis.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Kathy and Curt Marble Cancer Research Fund.

Further Information
Access to this exclusive content is for Technology Networks Premium members only.

Join Technology Networks Premium for free access to:

  • Exclusive articles
  • Presentations from international conferences
  • Over 2,600+ scientific posters on ePosters
  • More than 3,800+ scientific videos on LabTube
  • 35 community eNewsletters

Sign In

Forgotten your details? Click Here
If you are not a member you can join here

*Please note: By logging into you agree to accept the use of cookies. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

Related Content

Learning About Human Health Using Sewage
PhD student Mariana Matus studies human waste to understand individual and community health.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Real-Time Data for Cancer Therapy
Biochemical sensor implanted at initial biopsy could allow doctors to better monitor and adjust cancer treatments.
Thursday, August 06, 2015
Bacterial Computing
The “friendly” bacteria inside our digestive systems are being given an upgrade, which may one day allow them to be programmed to detect and ultimately treat diseases such as colon cancer and immune disorders.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Researchers Develop Genetic Tools to Engineer Common Gut Bacterium
Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed genetic parts that can be combined to program the commensal gut bacterium Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron.
Friday, July 10, 2015
How To Identify Drugs That Work Best For Each Patient
Implantable device could allow doctors to test cancer drugs in patients before prescribing chemotherapy.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Brain Tumor Weakness Identified
Discovery could offer a new target for treatment of glioblastoma.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
Epigenomics of Alzheimer’s Disease Progression
Study of epigenomic modifications reveals immune basis of Alzheimer's disease.
Thursday, February 19, 2015
Proteins Drive Cancer Cells To Change States
When RNA-binding proteins are turned on, cancer cells get locked in a proliferative state.
Monday, December 15, 2014
Genetic Material Hitchhiking in Our Cells May Shape Physical Traits
Explaining the connection between genotype and phenotype must also consider genetic material that doesn’t come from an organism’s chromosomes at all.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
New Approach to Global Health Challenges
MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science brings many tools to the quest for new disease treatments and diagnostic devices.
Friday, September 27, 2013
How Old Memories Fade Away
Discovery of a gene essential for memory extinction could lead to new PTSD treatments.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Reading DNA, Backward and Forward
MIT biologists reveal how cells control the direction in which the genome is read.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Two MIT Professors Named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators
Peter Reddien and Aviv Regev are among 27 top biomedical scientists selected nationwide.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Device Finds Stray Cancer Cells in Patients’ Blood
A microfluidic device that captures circulating tumor cells could give doctors a noninvasive way to diagnose and track cancers.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Possible Role for Huntington’s Gene Discovered
Mutant forms of the gene disrupt chemical modifications that control access to genes necessary for normal brain cell function.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Scientific News
Chromosomal Chaos
Penn study forms basis for future precision medicine approaches for Sezary syndrome
Cell's Waste Disposal System Regulates Body Clock Proteins
New way to identify interacting proteins could identify potential drug targets.
Compound Doubles Up On Cancer Detection
Researchers have found that tagging a pair of markers found almost exclusively on a common brain cancer yields a cancer signal that is both more obvious and more specific to cancer.
Lung Repair and Regeneration Gene Discovered
New role for hedgehog gene offers better understanding of lung disease.
Mixed Up Cell Transportation Key Piece of ALS and Dementia Puzzle
Researchers from the University of Toronto are one step closer to solving this incredibly complex puzzle, offering hope for treatment.
Five New Genetic Variants Linked to Brain Cancer Identified
The biggest ever study of DNA from people with glioma – the most common form of brain cancer – has discovered five new genetic variants associated with the disease.
Predictive Model for Breast Cancer Progression
Biomedical engineers have demonstrated a proof-of-principle technique that could give women and their oncologists more personalized information to help them choose options for treating breast cancer.
New Hope for Personalized Treatment of Eczema
Pharmaceutical researchers at Oregon State University have developed a new approach to treat eczema and other inflammatory skin disorders that would use individual tests and advanced science to create personalized treatments based on each person's lipid deficiencies.
Gene Expression: A Snapshot of Stem Cell Development
New genes found that regulate development of stem cells.
Are Changes to Current Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines Required?
Editorial suggests more research is needed to pinpoint age to end aggressive screening.
Skyscraper Banner

Skyscraper Banner
Go to LabTube
Go to eposters
Access to the latest scientific news
Exclusive articles
Upload and share your posters on ePosters
Latest presentations and webinars
View a library of 1,800+ scientific and medical posters
2,600+ scientific and medical posters
A library of 2,500+ scientific videos on LabTube
3,800+ scientific videos