Future watch

New nano tool for cancer testing

A new tool designed by scientists at The University of Manchester has laid the foundations for in depth analysis of blood that allows the identification of previously unknown molecules in blood.

November 30, 2018

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A new tool designed by scientists at The University of Manchester has laid the foundations for in depth analysis of blood that allows the identification of previously unknown molecules in blood.

Led by Dr Marilena Hadjidemetriou and Prof Kostas Kostarelos (who are based at the University’s Nanomedicine Lab) and in collaboration with the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, the research is published in the journal of Advanced Materials.

The technology – which uses tiny nanoparticles – is a new way of mining blood samples for information about cancer.

Minimally invasive blood tests have the potential to detect and monitor life-threatening diseases such as cancer. But our blood contains so much information it can be hard to uncover disease-specific signatures. Markers released into the bloodstream as a response to a disease are often difficult to detect because they are too small and too few in number.

The study, funded by and Cancer Research UK and Marie Curie Initial Training Network PathChooser, demonstrated that small molecules – specifically proteins – stick to the nanoparticles while in the blood circulation of cancer patients. ‘Fishing out’ the nanoparticles from the blood can then allow the analysis of the sticky molecules, called a ‘corona’, some of which are released from the growing cancer.

Prof Kostarelos said:

“We want to amplify cancer signals in the blood that would otherwise be buried among all this other ‘molecular noise’. Our team hopes to discover panels of biomolecules that can point to early warning signs of cancer which will provide the basis for the development of new diagnostic tests.”

The Advanced Materials paper illustrated for the first time the value and potential of nanoparticle-forming protein coronas in the blood of six patients suffering with advanced stage ovarian carcinoma. The patients were being treated with nanoparticles (liposomes) that are clinically used to deliver chemotherapeutic drugs.

In another recently published study, the Nanomedicine Lab team demonstrated that this tool is very powerful for the discovery of tumor-specific blood biomarkers in tumor-bearing mice.

More studies in patients with early-stage disease are needed to prove the potential of this technology for tracking tumours over time.

In the future, the scientists think this technology which sits at the intersection of the fields of nanotechnology, proteomics and cancer biology could improve the prospects for accurate early diagnosis in a range of diseases.

Dr Hadjidemetriou commented:

“Inaccuracy is a problem in many blood tests which either fail to pick up disease biomarkers or give false positives or false negatives. We believe this nano-scavenger technology could be a game-changer. This technology might not only improve the prospects for early diagnosis. It also has exciting possibilities in terms of patient stratification, disease progression and monitoring response to treatment.’’

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