This article was discussed in our Next Byte podcast.
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It is often challenging for doctors to detect immediately when cancer appears in the body. To make matters worse, imaging tests often yield false positives, miss the early signs of cancer, and are costly.
This is troubling because the later a diagnosis is made, the lower chances of survival and the lower quality of life will be for the patient. For example, for many lung cancer patients, the five-year survival rates are at least six times lower in patients whose tumors are detected after they begin to spread.
Fortunately, a team from MIT led by Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia has developed a method of cancer testing that relies on nanotechnology to perform both detection and localization of cancer cells.
The team’s specially-formulated peptide nanoparticles are attracted to cells experiencing lactic acidosis inside the body, which are often cancerous. The nanoparticles are extremely small, and can be introduced into the body via either inhalation or injection.
After entering the bloodstream, the nanoparticles seek cancerous cells. When cancer is present, the nanoparticles produce a signal chemical that can be detected using a simple paper urine test.
After the detection of cancer via urine test, another batch of nanoparticles that are coated with Cu-64, a radioactive tracer, can be introduced to the body. They then centralize near cancer cells, where they can be detected via PET imaging to determine the location of the growth.
This solution is a much more elegant solution than current technology for cancer screening. Every year at-risk patients need to only conduct a urine test as part of a general check-up to screen for cancer. Then, after a positive test, an imaging study can be completed to find out where the signal is coming from.
Phase 1 clinical trials of an earlier version of the urinary diagnostic particles found them to be safe in patients.