Novel technology to detect cancer in early stages

Researchers have developed novel technology to detect the tumors in the body in early stages with the help of nanoparticles that would help to amplify the minute cancerous alarms.

This research has been published in the December 16th issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Cancer cells produce many of the proteins that could be used as biomarkers to detect the cancer in the body but the amount of these proteins is not up to the mark or they may get diluted in the body of the patients making it nearly impossible to detect them in early stages.

Nanoparticles (brown) coated with peptides (blue) cleaved by enzymes (green) at the disease site. Peptides than come into the urine to be detected by mass spectrometry. (Credit: Justin H. Lo/MIT)

This new technology has been developed by the researchers from MIT and led by Sangeeta 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,” Bhatia, who is also a member of MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, said in a statement.

In this technology, nanoparticles will interact with the tumor proteins helping to make thousands of biomarkers secreted by the cancer cells. Those biomarkers would then easily be detected in the patient’s urine.

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

In this research, scientists administered ‘synthetic biomarkers’ having peptides bonded to the nanoparticles. They found that the particles interact with the protease enzymes, which are used to break down proteins. These enzymes are often found in large quantities in cancer cells as they help them to cut the proteins normally holding the cells in place and to spread in other parts of the body. Researchers found that the proteases break down hundreds of peptides from the nanoparticles and release them in the bloodstream. These peptides are then excreted in the urine, where the process of mass spectrometry could help to detect such peptides.

Researchers wrote, “These protease-sensitive agents (“Synthetic biomarkers”) perform three functions in vivo: they target sites of disease, sample dysregulated protease activities and emit mass-encoded reporters into host urine for multiplexed detection by mass spectrometry.”

According to Bhatia, this biomarker amplification technology could also be used to manage the advancement of the disease and to check the response of the tumors to the drugs.


Kwong, G., von Maltzahn, G., Murugappan, G., Abudayyeh, O., Mo, S., Papayannopoulos, I., Sverdlov, D., Liu, S., Warren, A., Popov, Y., Schuppan, D., & Bhatia, S. (2012). Mass-encoded synthetic biomarkers for multiplexed urinary monitoring of disease Nature Biotechnology DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2464

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