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Nanotechnology and Prostate Cancer Detection: Cheap, Fast, and Specific

Last updated April 9, 2015

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP


Scientists have been able to detect prostate cancer with 90-95% specificity. According to Dr. Huo, this means “if an individual tests positive with our test, there is a 90-95% likelihood of him having prostate cancer. This is a microscopic pathology image showing adenocarcinoma of the prostate. (Prostate cancer).

Nanotechnology allows scientists to manipulate individual atoms and molecules. DoveMed has previously reported on the application of this technology in medicine. Using nanotechnology in combination with computer tomography (CT), Dr. Popovtzer and colleagues were able to detect early-stage head and neck cancer, in a demonstration of proof of concept.

It has been reported that when an individual develops cancer, an immunogenic response produces antibodies targeting abnormal glycoproteins that are formed by tumors. These autoantibodies have been found in the blood for many types of cancer and are often called one of the “biomarkers” of cancer. Efforts have been made by many laboratories to use these biomarkers for early detection of cancer. It is well known that early detection offers many advantages including better treatment options and better success rates, particularly for breast, ovary, and prostate cancer.

The Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test is the standard test used routinely for detection of prostate cancer. It involves measuring the levels of PSA in a patient’s blood and usually takes several days to get a report. However, Dr. Qun Huo’s research group at Nanoscience Technology Center at the University of Central Florida is reporting a simple blood test that could predict early stage prostate cancer efficiently within minutes. Dr. Huo tells DoveMed, “Once the serum is separated from the blood, it takes just between 30 to 40 minutes to get a result.”

For this procedure, citrate ligand capped gold nanoparticles are mixed with blood sera. Using a technique called “two-step gold nanoparticle-enabled dynamic light scattering assay,” the group has found significant differences in the immunoglobulin G (IgG) binding to the gold particles in prostate cancer blood samples compared to non-cancer samples. IgG is a type of antibody found in body fluids and is the most abundant. Dr. Huo tells DoveMed, “at the onset of tumorigenesis, the body’s immune system kicks-in by producing antibodies, and this molecular signature is detected by using gold nanoparticles in the technique we have standardized.”

Dr. Huo’s group has conducted two pilot studies on blood/serum samples obtained from the Florida Hospital and the Prostate Cancer Biorepository Network (PCBN). Using the technique they have developed, the scientists have been able to detect prostate cancer with 90-95% specificity. According to Dr. Huo, this means “if an individual tests positive with our test, there is a 90-95% likelihood of him having prostate cancer.”

In contrast, the current screening test using PSA levels is far less sensitive and specific.  In fact, there is sufficient ambiguity that in many situations, this test leads to several unnecessary tests and procedures.

Thus, the advantages to the type of testing done by Dr. Huo’s research group are:

  • Results are obtained within minutes
  • The materials for the test cost under $1.00, making the test relatively inexpensive
  • It requires only a few drops of blood

·       This test could potentially be used for many different types of cancer, as the antibodies found in response to cancer occur in a number of cancer types.

Extensive screening tests are currently being conducted to test the applicability of this technique. In her interview with DoveMed, Dr. Huo says, “We are currently testing for early ovarian cancers with this technique as well. In many cases, by the time a woman gets symptoms and is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it is already in an advanced stage. So it is crucial to detect it as early as possible to increase survival rates.”

Early detection of cancer is one of the objectives of nanotechnology in medicine. Dr. Huo’s research potentially puts that goal well within reach.

By Mangala Sarkar Ph.D.

Primary Reference:

Tianyu Zheng, Nickisha Pierre-Pierre, Xin Yan, Qun Huo, Alvin J.O. Almodovar, Felipe Valerio, Inoel Rivera-Ramirez, Elizabeth Griffith, David D. Decker, Sixue Chen, Ning Zhu. Gold Nanoparticle-Enabled Blood Test for Early Stage Cancer Detection and Risk Assessment. ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, 2015, 7 (12): 6819-6827

Other References:

1.     Sarkar, M. (2015 Apr 8). Nanotechnology: What Is It and How Is It Used in Medicine?Retrieved fromhttp://www.dovemed.com/current-medical-news/nanotechnology-what-it-and-how-it-used-medicine/

2.     Popovtzer, R., Agrawal, A., Kotov, N.A., Popovtzer, A., Balter, J., Carey, T.E., & Kopelman, R. (2008). Targeted Gold Nanoparticles Enable Molecular CT Imaging of Cancer. Nano Letters, 8(12), pp. 4593-4596. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2772154/

3.     (2010 Feb 2). Antibodies Against Abnormal Glycoproteins Identified as Possible Biomarkers for Cancer Detection.Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/newsfromnci/2010/autoantibodysignatures

4.     Chen, H., Werner, S., Tao, S., Zornig, I., & Brenner, H. (2014). Blood autoantibodies against tumor-associated antigens as biomarkers in early detection of colorectal cancer. Cancer Letters, 346(2), pp. 178-187. Retrieved from http://www.cancerletters.info/article/S0304-3835%2814%2900033-0/references

5.     Lacombe, J., Mange, A., & Solassol, J. (2014). Use of Autoantibodies to Detect the Onset of Breast Cancer. Journal of Immunology Research, 2014, pp. 8. Retrieved from http://www.hindawi.com/journals/jir/2014/574981/

6.     (2015 Feb 26). Breast Cancer Survival Rates by Stage.Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/detailedguide/breast-cancer-survival-by-stage

7.     (2015 Mar 12). Survival Rates for Prostate Cancer.Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/detailedguide/prostate-cancer-survival-rates

8.     Colon Cancer Statistics.Retrieved from http://www.ccalliance.org/colorectal_cancer/statistics.html

9.     (2015 Jan 6). Prostate Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/moreinformation/prostatecancerearlydetection/prostate-cancer-early-detection-tests

10.  (2012 Jul 24). Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Test.Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/prostate/psa-fact-sheet

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 9, 2015
Last updated: April 9, 2015