Scientists have developed a highly-sensitive method to detect ovarian tumors composed of nodules smaller than 2 millimeters in diameter in mice, according to a study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering. In humans, the tumor detection system translates to approximately 5 months earlier than currently possible with existing blood tests.
“What we did in this paper is engineer our sensor to be about 15 minutes better than a previous version, and then compared it against a blood biomarker in a mouse model of ovarian cancer to show that we could beat it,” said senior author Sangeeta Bhatia.
Ovarian cancer is often referred to as a silent killer. Most patients are diagnosed in late stages, and have poor survival rates. If ovarian cancer were to be detected earlier, 5-year survival rates can be more than 90%, according to the study authors. The novel test employs the use of a synthetic biomarker, a nanoparticle that interacts with tumor proteins to release fragments that can be detected in a patient’s urine sample. Bhatia first reported the use of diagnosing cancer with synthetic biomarkers in 2012, by measuring the activity of endoproteases. To detect the endoproteases, the investigators designed nanoparticles coated with peptides that can be cleaved by the proteases MMPs to free tiny reporter fragments. The fragments are then filtered out by the kidney and concentrated in the urine. There, they can be detected with various methods, including a simple paper-based test.