Corporate Banner
Satellite Banner
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

Viruses Join Fight Against Harmful Bacteria
Engineered viruses could combat human disease and improve food safety.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Targeting DNA
Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Targeting DNA
Protein-based sensor could detect viral infection or kill cancer cells.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Searching Big Data Faster
Theoretical analysis could expand applications of accelerated searching in biology, other fields.
Thursday, August 27, 2015
A Metabolic Master Switch Underlying Human Obesity
Researchers find pathway that controls metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn fat.
Friday, August 21, 2015
Identifying a Key Growth Factor in Cell Proliferation
Researchers discover that aspartate is a limiter of cell proliferation.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Firms “Under-invest” in Long-Term Cancer Research
Tweaks to the R&D pipeline could create new drugs and greater social benefit.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Nanoparticles Can Clean Up Environmental Pollutants
Researchers have found that nanomaterials and UV light can “trap” chemicals for easy removal from soil and water.
Thursday, July 23, 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
Longstanding Problem Put to Rest
Proof that a 40-year-old algorithm for comparing genomes is the best possible will come as a relief to computer scientists.
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Diagnosing Cancer with Help from Bacteria
Engineered probiotics can detect tumors in the liver.
Friday, May 29, 2015
Master Gene Regulator Could Be New Target For Schizophrenia Treatment
Researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have identified a master genetic regulator that could account for faulty brain functions that contribute to schizophrenia.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Brain Tumor Weakness Identified
Discovery could offer a new target for treatment of glioblastoma.
Thursday, April 09, 2015
New Nanodevice Defeats Drug Resistance
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
New Nanodevice Defeats Drug Resistance
Tiny particles embedded in gel can turn off drug-resistance genes, then release cancer drugs.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
Scientific News
Genes That Protect African Children From Developing Malaria Identified
Variations in DNA at a specific location on the genome that protect African children from developing severe malaria, in some cases nearly halving a child’s chance of developing the life-threatening disease, have been identified in the largest genetic association study of malaria to date.
Researchers Disguise Drugs As Platelets to Target Cancer
Researchers have for the first time developed a technique that coats anticancer drugs in membranes made from a patient’s own platelets.
Dormant Viral Genes May Awaken to Cause ALS
NIH human and mouse study may open an unexplored path for finding treatments.
Scientists Create World’s Largest Catalog of Human Genomic Variation
An international team of scientists from the 1000 Genomes Project Consortium has created the world’s largest catalog of genomic differences among humans, providing researchers with powerful clues to help them establish why some people are susceptible to various diseases.
Five Genetic Regions Implicated In Cystic Fibrosis Severity
An international consortium of researchers conducted the largest-ever CF genome-wide analysis to find new therapeutic targets.
Greater Understanding Of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
A new genetic study of over 200,000 women reveals the underlying mechanisms of polycystic ovary syndrome, as well as potential interventions.
New Autism Genes Are Revealed in Largest-Ever Study
Work draws more detailed picture of genetic risk, sheds light on sex differences in diagnosis.
A Fundamental Protection Mechanism Against Formalin In Mammals is Revealed
Formaldehyde, or formalin, is well known to all of us as a common chemical used in many industrial processes and also as a preservative, remarkably we also produce formaldehyde in our bodies.
A New Single-Molecule Tool to Observe Enzymes at Work
A team of scientists at the University of Washington and the biotechnology company Illumina have created an innovative tool to directly detect the delicate, single-molecule interactions between DNA and enzymatic proteins.
Genetic Adaptations to Diet and Climate
Researchers found genetic variations in the Inuit of Greenland that reflect adaptations to their specific diet and climate.
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