Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a nanoparticle diagnostic tool that can detect cancer cells in urine.
The tool, invisible to the naked eye at less than 100 nanometers wide, could also be modified to function as an imaging agent to highlight the location of a scan-confirmed cancerous tumor.
According to the researchers, the nanoparticle tool, once approved for human use, could be incorporated into routine medical urine tests to detect traces of cancer cells.
If cancer is found, the patient could be given the nanoparticle to swallow before undergoing a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to find the source of the disease.
Tracking the spread of the disease
Here, the tool would work in combination with a radioactive ‘tracer’ compound called copper-64 that is usually ingested, inhaled or injected, and that detects cancer cells and tracks their way back to their source.
The world-renowned institute of science and technology said the nanoparticle could, in principle, be used to detect cancer anywhere in the body, including tumors that have spread from their primary location, a process known as ‘metastasis’.
Professor Sangeeta Bhatia, MIT project leader, considered it particularly suitable for assessing patient response to treatment and for long-term follow-up of recurrent tumors, particularly for colon cancer, after the study showed that the nanoparticle tracked the spread of metastatic tumors to the lung and liver in mice.
“This is a really broad sensor intended to respond to both primary tumors and their metastases,” Bhatia said.
“It can activate a urinary signal and also allow us to visualize where the tumors are.
These patients could be monitored with the urinary version of the test every six months, for example.
“If the urine test is positive, they could follow up with a radioactive version of the same agent for an imaging study that could indicate where the disease had spread. We also believe that the regulatory path can be accelerated with both test modes taking advantage of a single formulation. “
A breakthrough for cancer diagnosis
The development of a cancer screening tool that could be used as part of a simple urine test marks a breakthrough in cancer diagnosis.
Oncologists often use imaging techniques such as CT scans, mammograms, and colonoscopies to detect the disease.
According to MIT, the study, which has been published in the journal Nature Materials, demonstrated the double success of nanoparticles with mice.
He also said that phase 1 clinical trials of an earlier version of the urinary diagnostic particles conducted by Glympse-Bio, a company co-founded by Bhatia, “found that they were safe in patients.”
The importance of nanoparticles in medicine has increased in recent years as their miniature properties have been exploited to enhance contrast in images and deliver drugs and genes directly to tumors.
By virtue of their size, nanoparticles behave differently from larger materials in terms of how they absorb energy and react with chemicals.
This means that they have often played a crucial role in scientific discoveries that could not have been made without their use.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism