Chipping away at cancer

June 25, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- In the last two decades, the number of deaths from col­orectal cancer has steadily declined, according to the Amer­ican Cancer Society. While some of the decrease can be attrib­uted to better treat­ment prac­tices, early detec­tion is another pri­mary factor. Nonethe­less, col­orectal cancer is still the second leading cause of death among men and women in the U.S., and is expected to be respon­sible for more than 50,000 deaths in 2012.

“Each of us has wit­nessed cancer in our home,” said phar­ma­ceu­tical sci­ences grad­uate stu­dent Jaydev Upponi, who has helped design a new tech­nology to “give back, to con­tribute sci­ence that could help in the long run.”

Upponi and his class­mates, elec­trical and com­puter engi­neering grad­uate stu­dent Asan­terabi Malima and mechan­ical engi­neering grad­uate stu­dent Cihan Yilmaz, recently founded a com­pany to develop a screening chip that uses nanopar­ti­cles to detect col­orectal cancer ear­lier than cur­rently possible.

Cur­rent detec­tion and mon­i­toring strate­gies include expen­sive and often inac­cu­rate tests such as a colonoscopy, the suc­cess of which depends on the com­pe­tency of the exam­iner. An emerging screening assay, on the other hand, ana­lyzes blood sam­ples for a cancer-​​specific pro­tein called car­ci­noem­bry­onic antigen, or CEA. But cur­rent CEA screens have high thresh­olds and require large blood vol­umes and sig­nif­i­cant blood sample prepa­ra­tion, which make them expen­sive, time con­suming and less sensitive.

“We saw that we have a tech­nology that can address some of these con­cerns for diag­nosis and mon­i­toring,” said Malima, a member of Northeastern’s NSF-​​funded Center for High-​​rate Nanoman­u­fac­turing.

Using their exper­tise acquired in the labs of Ahmed Bus­naina, the William Lin­coln Smith Pro­fessor of Mechan­ical and Indus­trial Engi­neering, and Vladimir Torchilin, a Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Phar­ma­ceu­tical Sci­ences, the student-​​researchers devel­oped a 0.25-millimeter chip that can detect very low con­cen­tra­tions of bio­markers in the blood such as CEA.

Called nuchip, the tech­nology could also be applied to a variety of other bio­markers, such as BNP, a pro­tein asso­ci­ated with con­ges­tive heart failure.

“First we coat nanopar­ti­cles with CEA-​​specific anti­bodies,” Yilmaz said of the design process. “Then we assemble the nanopar­ti­cles onto the chip.”

The anti­bodies bind to CEA, the amount of which will deter­mine whether blood con­cen­tra­tion levels are above normal.

The team will ini­tially use the device to mon­itor patients who are already being treated for col­orectal cancer. “Mon­i­toring is a way to see if their treat­ment is effec­tive or not. It can be extremely cru­cial espe­cially in rapidly growing col­orectal can­cers, to detect increases in the bio­marker,” Upponi said. “I think that’s one area where our device can be extremely beneficial.”

The data the researchers col­lect from these mon­i­toring studies will allow them to estab­lish guide­lines for using the chip to diag­nose cancer in the future. “Part of our work right now is answering ques­tions like ‘What should be our clin­ical sen­si­tivity and speci­ficity?’” Malima said.

Because the chip can be engi­neered to detect a variety of bio­markers at once (by using a variety of anti­bodies to coat the nanopar­ti­cles), the tech­nology could also be very useful in the emerging field of per­son­al­ized med­i­cine, using nuchip devices designed for spe­cific pop­u­la­tions. Three North­eastern student-​​researchers have devel­oped a screening chip that uses nanopar­ti­cles to detect col­orectal ear­lier than ever before.

Explore further: Tracking America's physical activity, via smartphone

Related Stories

Tracking America's physical activity, via smartphone

June 19, 2012
“We know that most Amer­i­cans are too seden­tary,” said North­eastern asso­ciate pro­fessor Stephen Intille, a founding fac­ulty member of the university’s new Per­sonal ...

The risk of carrying a cup of coffee

June 15, 2012
Object manip­u­la­tion or tool use is almost a uniquely human trait, said Dagmar Sternad, director of Northeastern’s Action Lab, a research group inter­ested in move­ment coor­di­na­tion. ...

Coactivator stokes continuing fire of endometriosis

June 4, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Endometriosis, which can cause severe pain and even infertility in the estimated 8.5 million U.S. women it affects, is driven by one of the cell's master regulators ­ steroid receptor coactivator ...

Recommended for you

Scientists find key to regenerating blood vessels

November 23, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies a signaling pathway that is essential for angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels. The ...

Researchers find infectious prions in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease patient skin

November 22, 2017
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)—the human equivalent of mad cow disease—is caused by rogue, misfolded protein aggregates termed prions, which are infectious and cause fatal damages in the patient's brain. CJD patients ...

Surprising roles for muscle in tissue regeneration, study finds

November 22, 2017
A team of researchers at Whitehead has illuminated an important role for different subtypes of muscle cells in orchestrating the process of tissue regeneration. In a paper published in the November 22 issue of Nature, they ...

Study reveals new mechanisms of cell death in neurodegenerative disorders

November 22, 2017
Researchers at King's College London have discovered new mechanisms of cell death, which may be involved in debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

How rogue immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier to cause multiple sclerosis

November 21, 2017
Drug designers working on therapeutics against multiple sclerosis should focus on blocking two distinct ways rogue immune cells attack healthy neurons, according to a new study in the journal Cell Reports.

New simple test could help cystic fibrosis patients find best treatment

November 21, 2017
Several cutting-edge treatments have become available in recent years to correct the debilitating chronic lung congestion associated with cystic fibrosis. While the new drugs are life-changing for some patients, they do not ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.