Nanotechnology enables creation of biomarkers for cancer detection

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers developed new technology, which enables the creation of biomarkers to diagnose cancer earlier, according to research published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Researchers, led by Sangeeta Bhatia, used nanoparticles--originally intended as imaging agents for tumors--to instead interact with enzymes known as proteases, MIT news reports. That interaction, in turn, creates biomarkers, detected in a patient's urine.

"Biomarkers are becoming increasingly important in the clinical management of complex diseases, yet our ability to discover new biomarkers remains limited by our dependence on endogenous molecules," the researchers say. "This approach of engineering synthetic biomarkers for multiplexed urinary monitoring should be broadly amenable to additional pathophysiological processes and point-of-care diagnostics."

The researchers successfully tested the ability of the nanoparticles to detect colorectal cancer in its early stages in mice. They also used the nanoparticles to monitor the profession of liver fibrosis.

Bhatia tells MIT news that trying to find biomarkers is a difficult process because, oftentimes, cancers turn out to be groups of several diseases with several genetic signatures.

"There's a desperate search for biomarkers, for early detection or disease prognosis, or looking at how the body responds to therapy," she says.

Researchers from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center contributed to the efforts.

To learn more:
- here's the study's abstract
- read the MIT news article