Research at Purdue University claims to have developed probes that can help pinpoint the location of tumors, and may some day be used to directly attack cancer cells.
Joseph Irudayaraj, an associate professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, describes his breakthrough as nanoscale, multifunctional probes that have antibodies on board, to search out and attach to cancer cells.
"If we have a tumor, these probes should have the ability to latch on to it. The probe could carry drugs to target, treat as well as reveal cancer cells," Irudayaraj said.
While previously developed probes use gold nanorods or magnetic particles, Irudayaraj's nanoprobes use both.
This, according to him, makes his probes easier to track with different imaging devices as they move toward cancer cells.
The magnetic particles can be traced with the aid of an MRI machine, while the gold nanorods are luminescent and can be traced through microscopy, a more sensitive and precise process.
Irudayaraj said that an MRI is less precise than optical luminescence in tracking the probes, but has the advantage of being able to track them deeper in tissue, expanding the probes' possible applications.
The probes are about 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. They contain the antibody Herceptin, used in treatment of metastatic breast cancer.
As to how they could be used, Irudayaraj said that the probes would be injected into the body through a saline buffering fluid, after which the Herceptin would find and attach to protein markers on the surface of cancer cells.
"When the cancer cell expresses a protein marker that is complementary to Herceptin, then it binds to that marker. We are advancing the technology to add other drugs that can be delivered by the probes," Irudayaraj said.
Irudayaraj said that better tracking of the nanoprobes could help locate tumors and better treat the cancer.
He revealed that the novel probes, which were tested in cultured cancer cells, would next be tested on mice models to determine their stability.
A paper detailing the technology has been released in the online version of Angewandte Chemie, an international chemistry journal.