A highly sensitive technology that could detect lung cancer in its early stage has been developed by biological engineers and medical scientists at the University of Missouri.
"We've developed highly sensitive technology that can detect a specific molecule type in the bloodstream when lung cancer is present," said Michael Wang, MD, PhD, assistant professor of pathology and anatomical sciences at MU and a corresponding author for the study.
MU researchers used blood plasma samples to detect a change in a specific small ribonucleic acid (microRNA) molecule that is often elevated in lung cancer patients.
The scientists put an extract of blood plasma through a protein-based nanopore, which is a tiny hole in a thin membrane that is just big enough for a single molecule to pass through.
By applying an ionic current to the nanopore, the scientists measured changes in the current that occur when the microRNA molecule associated with lung cancer is present.
"That altered current acts as a signal or bio-signature that is related to lung cancer," said Li-Qun Gu, PhD, an associate professor of biological engineering at MU and a corresponding author for the study.
"Our new nanopore sensor is selective and sensitive enough to detect microRNAs at the single molecular level in plasma samples from lung cancer patients.
"While there are many research labs that focus on nanopore applications, this is the first time that nanopore technology has been used to detect lung cancer," Gu added.
The discovery was published in Nature Nanotechnology.