Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology - Guwahati relied on 'magic bullets' of science, a class of molecules called aptamers, that can bind to virtually any molecule, clasping it in a firm lock-and-key fit.
"Our team has found an alternative way to detect breast cancer. We have synthesised a special type of aptamer which has high specificity towards estrogen receptor alpha positive breast carcinomas. The aptamer recognises and binds to the receptor even in minute quantities," Arghya Sett, lead author of the study, told IANS.
"It is a low cost, less complex and rapid technology," said Sett of IIT - Guwahati's Bioengineering Research Laboratory, Department of Biosciences and Bioengineering.
"It overcomes the drawback of conventional antibody based tests such as production cost, production time, batch to batch variation and inconsistent results that often lead to false positive estimations. The production cost for the alternative approach would be 10 to 20 times cheaper," he said about the work funded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
The detectors can be tailor-made synthetically to suit the type of target molecule and can do away with the sacrifice of animals needed to produce antibody-based diagnostics.
The team's challenge was to refine the sensitivity of aptamers towards the target breast cancer receptor because of the probe's inherent affinity to "attach to any molecule in the universe which has 3D shape and size".
"In future, aptamers have the real potential to substitute antibodies. It is a platform technology that has a vast potential and should be often exploited as to develop cost effective diagnostics for a plethora of diseases like cancer, systemic, metabolic and pathogenic disorders," said Utpal Bora, group leader and principal investigator of the project.
Another project funded by DBT for selection of aptamers for diagnosis of celiac diseases is also currently underway in his laboratory. Bora's laboratory collaborated with doctors from Dr. Bhubaneswar Borooah Cancer Institute (BBCI), Guwahati, Assam.
The BBCI team comprises of Bibhuti Bhusan Borthakur, Jagannath Dev Sharma and Amal Chandra Kataki. A patent has been filed for the invention.