MIT scientists have announced that they developed new nanoparticles to detect cancer in urine samples. In addition to detecting the presence of tumors, nanoparticles can also accumulate in tumor sites and function as an imaging agent, helping to identify their location. These multifunctional particles can be very useful for routine cancer screening and for helping doctors determine if a tumor has spread or relapsed.
“It’s a really broad sensor designed to respond to both primary tumors and their metastases,” said Sangeeta Bhatia, a researcher involved in the study. “It can cause a urinary signal and also allows us to visualize where the tumors are.”
The nanoparticles are covered with peptides that can be naturally cleaved by proteases present on the surface of cancer cells. These broken peptides end up in the urine to form a synthetic biomarker where they can be detected by a simple urine test. Researchers have already tested nanoparticles in animal cancer models and have successfully highlighted the presence of tumors.
So far, so good, but doctors need to know where exactly the tumors are and if they are spreading to various places on the body. Fortunately, nanoparticles also function as a tumor imaging agent. The researchers included the radioactive agent copper-64 inside the particles, which can be detected by PET (positron emission tomography) imaging. The surface of the particles is also full of peptides that are attracted to the microenvironment of the acid tumor, which helps to improve the accumulation and retention of particles within the tumors.
Researchers have high hopes that the system could be very useful for long-term follow-up of cancer patients. “These patients could be monitored with the urinary version of the test every six months, for example,” Bhatia said. “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 the regulatory pathway can be accelerated with the two test modes using a single formulation “.
Excitingly, the system can even serve as a cancer test. “The vision is that you could use it in a screening paradigm – alone or in conjunction with other tests – and we could collectively reach patients who today do not have access to expensive screening infrastructure,” Bhatia said. “Every year a urine test could be done as part of a general check-up. You will do an image study only if the urine test is positive to find out where the signal is coming from. We have a lot more work to do on science to get there, but this is where we would like to go in the long run. ”
Study a Materials of nature: Multimodal precision diagnostics activated by the microenvironment