A new nanoparticle sensor has been developed that could enable early diagnosis of cancer with a simple urine test. It can also detect many cancerous proteins that can be used to distinguish the type of tumour or its response to treatment.
The nanoparticle sensor designed by engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could also be designed to reveal whether a tumour has metastasized. The nanoparticles in the sensor are designed in a way that when they encounter a tumour, they release short sequences of DNA that are excreted in the urine. Analysing these can reveal distinct features of a particular patient’s tumour, according to a press statement by MIT. For this test, a strip of paper, similar to an at-home Covid test, can be used which makes it more affordable and accessible.
"We are trying to innovate in a context of making technology available to low- and middle-resource settings. Putting this diagnostic on paper is part of our goal of democratizing diagnostics and creating inexpensive technologies that can give you a fast answer at the point of care," Sangeeta Bhatia, a senior author of the study said in the statement.
While testing, researchers showed that the sensors can be used to detect the activity of five different enzymes expressed in tumours. This approach could also be used to distinguish at least 46 different DNA barcodes in a single sample, using a microfluidic device.
"Our goal here is to build up disease signatures and to see whether we can use these barcoded panels not only to read out a disease but also to classify a disease or distinguish different cancer types," Liangliang Hao, the lead author said in the statement.
To enable the use of these barcodes in humans, the researchers think that they may need to use more than five barcodes because there is a vast variety between patients' tumours. For this, they have worked with researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard led by Harvard University Professor Pardis Sabeti, to create a microfluidic chip that can be used to read up to 46 different DNA barcodes from one sample, according to the statement.
This type of testing could be used also be to measure how a patient's tumour responds to treatment and whether it has recurred after treatment.