Scientists are testing a new cancer-detection system that could make it easier and cheaper to arrest one of the leading causes of death in the world and the third leading cause of death in Kenya.
In research published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, researchers reported modifying gold-coated magnetic nanoparticles with DNA, to match the microRNA they wanted to detect.
Researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia, found that gold-plated nanoparticles would take only 30 minutes to detect cancer, compared with the almost 12 hours for current diagnostic methods.
Moreover, using nanotechnology, they detected low levels of micro-RNAs with cancer, in less blood than is currently used. RNAs are genetic material used to synthesise proteins in cells, while microRNAs are short RNA molecules that target some messenger RNAs to prevent them from synthesising a specific protein.
When microRNAs are impaired, cancer or tumours can form or spread to other parts of the body (mestasis). The researchers modified gold-coated magnetic nanoparticles with DNA to match the microRNA they wanted to detect.
The magnetic nanoparticles attracted and latched onto the targeted microRNAs, the minute molecules essential for life cells, enabling the microRNAs to be easily extracted for study.
This diagnostic method, could especially be useful for cancers that affect internal organs, which are not easy to detect. This research follows similar advances made by another group of scientists at the same university, who were exploring cancer detection in blood.
In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, a team of medical researchers led by Professor Chris Heeschen, developed a way to detect early-stage cancer cells in the blood using a malaria protein.
They also used a magnet to retrieve targeted cancer cells from a blood sample.
The malaria protein was found to be particularly good in detecting rare cancer cells. The researchers believe that the two different methods would act as complementary tools to diagnose cancer.
“We are detecting small molecules found in the blood which could also identify the type of cancer, while they are looking for rare cells that are responsible for the spread of cancer. The two technologies could work very well together,” the researchers noted. The technology is expected to be available within three years, pending regulatory approvals.
Meanwhile, in another study published in the International Journal of Cancer, scientists have discovered a link between certain genetic mutations, the aggressiveness of prostate cancer, the risk of developing the disease and poorer survival rates for patients.
Researchers studied DNA from 1,700 patients and a comparable number of healthy men, to look for mutations associated with the cancer. They found that small changes to a gene called ANO7 increased a patient’s risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
“Genetic testing for ANO7 could help identify patients sonner,” said lead author Prof Johanna Schleutker, noting that the findings could help diagnose aggressive cancer at an early stage.
More research with participants from diverse ethnic groups and other demographics is needed to validate the findings.